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<<October 2016>>
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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: manchester, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 26
1. how to make an urban sketch in ten easy steps

How to make an Urban Sketch (in the North of England in Autumn (i.e. it's cold)) in 10 easy steps;

(Optional step; Turn up to the location and realise you've brought all your inks but no pen. No really (I told you I was a rubbish urban sketcher). Go buy pens)

Step 1. Find a coffee shop with a window seat and a view
Step 2. Have a coffee and sandwich. This is one of the more complicated steps; I'm in the Northern Quarter, of Manchester, so will have to decide between ten different coffee beans, made in fifteen different ways, then there's the bread...sour dough, brioche, rye....
Step 3. Make a mess of the table
Step 4. Ah shit. Why did I put colour on it?
Step 5. Have another coffee. And a Danish pastry. Try to hide the mess you've made of the table when they bring it over.
Step 6. Add lettering to try to take away the focus from the awful colour work
Step 7. Pigeons
Step 8. Scrub the table then go outside and take the obligatory out of focus urban sketcher photo, whilst holding your book in front of the building with one hand and trying to take photo with the other hand whilst worrying that somebody is going to snatch your phone.
Step 9. When all else fails go shopping
Step 10. Reassess at home over a cup of tea. Followed by either throwing it in the bin or feeling a little bit smug.

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2. you're like Manchester, you've got Strange Ways

This is the drawing that I made with all the tools that I took out with me in my last blog post. Well, I say 'all of the tools' but obviously I just mean one pen, one bottle of ink and one sketchbook. I must say I was overwhelmed by the response to that post, and to how many people related. I assumed it was just me. It's a comfort to know I'm not alone. Perhaps we could set up a support group?

Anyway as I said, this was the drawing I made on that day. The sketchbook is really difficult to photograph as it's so long. So here's the top, middle and bottom, of the Midland Hotel, Manchester, in bite size chunks. If I'm honest, it's really quite difficult to draw in too.

I made this drawing while out with Manchester Urban Sketchers. It's a building I love. A big ornate hotel in the city. It has everything I like to draw. It's a strange thing, I'd say that Modernism and even Brutalism is possibly my favourite style of architecture. But, I just cannot draw it. I have no desire to draw it. When it comes to drawing I want the exact opposite. I want twirls galore. The Midland has that.

I made the drawing in around two hours on a bench across the road from the hotel. It's getting freezing out there on the streets now, so I retired to the library to finish it off. I'm guessing that with winter approaching a whole new set of 'things to take on a sketchcrawl' are about to trouble me. I should just give in and drag a trolley around.
And in case evidence is needed as to quite how awkward this book is, here we are at the end of the session, look I can't even hold it.

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3. you're like Manchester, you've got Strange Ways

This is the drawing that I made with all the tools that I took out with me in my last blog post. Well, I say 'all of the tools' but obviously I just mean one pen, one bottle of ink and one sketchbook. I must say I was overwhelmed by the response to that post, and to how many people related. I assumed it was just me. It's a comfort to know I'm not alone. Perhaps we could set up a support group?
Anyway as I said, this was the drawing I made on that day. The sketchbook is really difficult to photograph as it's so long. So here's the top, middle and bottom, of the Midland Hotel, Manchester, in bite size chunks. If I'm honest, it's really quite difficult to draw in too.
I made this drawing while out with Manchester Urban Sketchers. It's a building I love. A big ornate hotel in the city. It has everything I like to draw. It's a strange thing, I'd say that Modernism and even Brutalism is possibly my favourite style of architecture. But, I just cannot draw it. I have no desire to draw it. When it comes to drawing I want the exact opposite. I want twirls galore. The Midland has that.
I made the drawing in around two hours on a bench across the road from the hotel. It's getting freezing out there on the streets now, so I retired to the library to finish it off. I'm guessing that with winter approaching a whole new set of 'things to take on a sketchcrawl' are about to trouble me. I should just give in and drag a trolley around.
And in case evidence is needed as to quite how awkward this book is, here we are at the end of the session, look I can't even hold it.

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4. tonight the streets are ours

For one reason or another, I seem to have been talking, and thinking, a lot recently about how my work is changing/has changed. And it is/has. It's changed dramatically.
There are a few reasons for that, which, if you're interested, I'll share with you now. If you're not interested please take a look around at some of my pictures.
1. The first reason is that I went on this ink workshop. And I loved it. It felt I'd been reunited with an old love. Way before I ever believed I could be an illustrator, I used to play around with ink. Mainly just cheap fountain pens, but I also bought a whole load of those little bottles of Windsor and Newton inks back in the day too. I'd paint with them, like in this old children's illustration, and loved the intensity. I kind of forgot about all that as time passed. But, it was taking the ink workshop that woke me up to the possibilities all over again. It truly was like coming home.
I should also mention, that just around the same time I inherited a load of old inks - a huge box of bottles of all different kinds from acrylics to Indian ink to luminescents - when an art studio was closing down. Half of them were so old or crusty that there was no way of opening them. I threw all of those away, but what was left, coupled with the W&N ones I'd bought twenty years ago (which incidentally were all still in perfect condition), became my new palette.
2. So now I'm armed with my new weapons, but I'm really stuck. I'm really...well...bored. Bored of what I'm doing. I'm still running my Drink & Draw series which I absolutely adore, so that's giving me lots of practice on the life drawing front, I'm still going out and doing lots of observational drawings, but I'm still stuck. Now, I don't think I even noticed this. Not quite. Not until my next change, but I see it now. And it's not always a bad place to be. In fact there's something quite exciting about being in that place.
Cos change is gonna come.
And, I love that. I love just knowing that.
3. One morning I woke up and just had an incredible urge to draw the Buxton Opera House. This surprised me. It surprised me because the thought of doing that before that point would have bored the pants off me. The place had been drawn and painted by every artist within a fifty mile radius of it over and over again. Quite rightly too, it's really beautiful. REALLY beautiful. But it's been drawn and painted to death. The idea of doing it just felt soooo predictable. So obvious. But this day I got up and I had a need to draw it. So, I did. Then I drew the town hall. Then the Palace Hotel. Then some of the gorgeous flats that overlooked the Opera House.....
And so I drew Buxton (I haven't got around to scanning them yet, so that's another post) until I'd drawn all of Buxton. It is only a small place. But now something was awakening.
4. And then came the Urban Sketchers Symposium, that just so happened to be in the city I work and the city that I see as a spiritual home. Manchester, the city where half of me is from (my mother's half).
Now, I've been a part of an urban sketching group (Yorkshire) for around four or five years, in fact, I now draw with two (Manchester), but I've never felt like much of an urban sketcher. My favourite outings were always the coffees shop ones. I'd always end up drawing details or people. So I always felt a bit of a incidental urban sketcher.
What the Symposium did for me was open my eyes to our amazing city and to share that and show off Manchester with people who love drawing as much as I do. I also discovered so many drawing opportunities. Around every corner there's a little surprise, a little gem, and I intend to draw them all. It was wonderful to share that with other sketchers. I've learnt a lot about the city. And about where I want my work to take me.
So, yeah, my drawing has changed. And for the first time in quite some time I'm loving what I'm doing again. That's a good feeling.
Just go with the flow kids. Don't get hung up or frustrated by your drawing funks. It'll all come around. It'll all come back around.

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5. A History of my Archive in 10 Objects. No.7: college sketchbooks, 1978-1981

For the seventh selection in A History of my Archive in 10 Objects here are some surviving sketchbooks from my 3 years on the Illustration course at Manchester Polytechnic.

Collection of sketchbooks, 1978-1981
Okey, so this is cheating a bit - these are clearly more than one object! But the contents are pretty consistent and were all bundled together in my father's loft, so I think I can safely lump them together as a single item.

Actually, very little remains of my work from the years 1978-1981 while I was at Manchester, as previously mentioned on this blog I ceremoniously threw almost all of my course work out of the 4th Floor window of Chatham House on the final day of the last term, keeping only my degree show portfolio work. It was an act of bravado, but also a statement of the frustration and disillusionment many of us sensed at the end, I felt I'd somehow lost direction during the course. So I was pleasantly surprised to find these sketchbooks still in existence in my dad's loft.

Unfortunately there's not much I want to share, most of the pages are testament to a struggle within confines I'd placed myself in as a pen and ink illustrator. Some time during the First Year I was told by my course head Tony Ross (yes, that Tony Ross) that painting wasn't really my thing, I shouldn't worry about colouring and would be best served by concentrating entirely on pen and ink drawing, with just a splash of colour. I took this advice rather too much to heart and pen drawing was pretty much all I did for most of the 2nd and 3rd years. When I wasn't galavanting off to punk gigs I spent much of my studio time illustrating some of my favourite novels in black and white - The Wind in the Willows, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Treasure Island, Tom's Midnight Garden, Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH... all really imaginative books for an illustrator to explore.

College project: Treasure Island, pen & ink 1980. This drawing survived as a degree show piece.

I saw myself as a black-and-white specialist in the manner of E. H. Shepherd, Mervyn Peake and Edward Ardizzone, it didn't occur to me that in the late '70's fewer and fewer publishers were actually printing novels with text illustrations, that my heroes were all of their time. Most surprisingly of all (and this is something I was to particularly wonder about later), I either wasn't given, or chose to ignore, any guidance to study, write, or dummy picture books, the stock-in-trade of any would-be children's illustrator!

Years later when I met Tony Ross again at Bologna I questioned him about this, and was told, "you have to remember John, it was a commercial illustration course, not a children's book course"... which only partly answered the question. Tony was the head of the course and a children's illustrator, I was the only children's book illustrator in my year (all the others working towards the broader illustration market). I'd set myself very narrow constraints, my pen and ink drawings were still clumsy, the sketchbooks are full of marginalia, doodles rather than dynamic ground breaking work. Maybe I'm being rather hard on myself, but looking through the sketchbooks now from a professional point of view, of the illustration work there's very little I would want to share, I'm not surprised I wanted to throw most of my course artwork out of the window!

College project: Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, pen & ink 1981. Another degree show survivor.

However, mixed in with the heavy-handed experiments (which I'm NOT going to show!)  the sketchbooks also contain lots of drawings from life, sketches of those around me which bring back very clear memories of the time. As a break from struggling with pen and ink I drew fellow students, the things around me... it seems the more I tried to be a 'proper illustrator', the further away I was drifting from inspiration, yet the sketches from life have an authenticity and lighter touch I was somehow missing in my course work. Here are a few.

The most ready-to-hand subjects were the other illustration students on my course....
Fellow student Shirley Barker sketch mixed in with a page of course work on The Wind in the Willows, 1979

Melanie Dabbs, 1980
Bob Wood 1980
Jean Yarwood, 1981
Tammy Wong, 1981

... even occasionally the course teachers...

...then there were the places I lived...

A scruffy room in Didsbury, 1980. That's my Corona typewriter on the table.
The All Saints campus from the Halls of Residence, around 1979. Student Union on the right, Oxford Road in the distance.

...and there was the Thursday afternoon life class (regretably stopped half way through the course), which was a wonderful escape while it lasted as it was purely observed drawing.

My eyes were greatly opened by my time at Manchester, not least thanks to the Manchester indie music scene and my friends. The course itself though had narrowed my output and possibly development, but I don't exclusively blame the tutors, I've a tremendous respect for Tony Ross. We must have been a tough bunch to teach.

Tony Ross drawing in my sketchbook margin, I think he was  encouraging me to make my animals fatter.

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6. an open sketchblog

Putting your work out there, in the big wild world (the internet), is a weird thing. A great thing, but it never fails to surprise too. Specifically what people respond to. And don't. You can be really really pleased with something you've created and it'll get a luke warm response and then there are things that you are in two minds about posting/aren't happy with/don't like and they get a huge response. It's amazing. It keeps you on your toes. It makes you realise you can never predict or presume. Apparently these are my 'best nine' from Instagram (@aheavysoul) of 2015. They wouldn't have been on my list but once you've put it out there it's not just your work anymore, it takes on a life of it's own. Thanks for all the Likes/comments/etc here and on all of the other places I share my work. I appreciate them all. Even the ones for the crappy drawings!

Happy New Year to you all. I intend to fill January with posts, on my blog, to inspire people to draw. Sure, I know that most of you don't need any inspiration to draw - you're as obsessed as I am - but somebody somewhere may just stumble across it and get inspired. Just as I did around nine years ago with someone else's blog.

(An Open Sketcbook. It was Suzanne Cabrera's An Open Sketchbook)

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7. these cafe days

Tampopo, Manchester
I saw a friend recently, who said "what have you been up to? Just going from café to café?" And, you know, from my drawings, it could look like that is all I do.
I do enjoy drawings in cafes though. They seem to combine all my favourite things; people, food and stuff, whilst being (mostly) warm and dry.
It's particularly useful, too, should you have forgotten to take your sketchbook out with you, if the café has paper place mats. I commend Tampopo for this. I managed to dig out an orange felt tip pen from the bottom of my bag for this one. I believe all cafés should use paper placemats. When I'm Prime Minister I will make it law.
The Plaza, Stockport
 One of my all time favourite cafes is the Plaza in Stockport. This place is an absolute hidden gem in a grey concrete city.
 It was built in 1932 and the café has pretty much stayed unchanged since then. It's like being on set of a Poirot film. Really very beautiful.
Plus, whoever was in charge of casting, has done a great job with the staff. Perfectly drawable café in every way.
 Then, the other day, we found a new café. I love it when that happens - when you find a new good café. Because, yes, I like a drawable café but the food is just as important.
And this one in Eyam 'plague village' ticked both boxes. I'll be returning. Next time, I'll sit in a different place, for a different view to draw.
Oil Can Café, Hepworth
 And so to today. The last café before Christmas.
But just to prove that I'm not always just sat around a table eating and drawing here's a something I did at work...
Merry Christmas folks.

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8. whippin' piccadilly

These are a few sketches I made today at Piccadilly Train Station in Manchester. They're of some of the buildings that surround the station.
And some more bikes (see my previous post).
I created these with the Manchester Urban Sketching Group, and there was a bit of a celebratory atmosphere in the air as Manchester has been chosen as the city that will host the 2016 Urban Sketchers Symposium.
Led by Simone Ridyard, who was the driving force behind the Manchester bid, we got sketching this amazing city.
And my piece of advice for visitors next July; bring an umbrella. And a coat. Maybe some gloves, a scarf, hat. Only joking.
But seriously, bring a coat.

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9. at the junction

On Thursday evening I went to an Etsy team event in Manchester. For those, not in the know, if you have your own shop on Etsy you are also a part of a huge worldwide community of Etsy shop keepers. Amongst that community there are a whole host of teams - places where traders can connect and discuss what matters to them. And, sometimes events and meet-ups come out of those discussions. So, I went to see what goes on at these events - I've observed from the outskirts until now - and, to sketch the event - which, too, could be seen as observing from the outskirts.

The team in question is Etsy MCR. Based in Manchester (obviously), this is a really pro active team of Etsy traders. Over the evening we had talks from members, local creative businesses and a live Skype chat with Etsy UK HQ. It was really inspirational. I've very much come to realise the importance of getting our and about, networking and connecting with other creative folk and small businesses recently.
This realisation has become heightened, of late, now that I've finally, after all these years, taken the leap and given up my day job. Eeeeek. Woohooo. Arrrgh. YAY. Shit. Oh.Oh dear. Oh yes. Okay. Help. Yay. Eeeek. Woo-fecking-hoo. Yes, that's pretty much what's been going through my head since doing so. Anyway, more of that in another post.
Back to Thursday. And, back to the gorgeous setting of Sugar Junction, in the wonderful creative Northern Quarter of Manchester. And back to Etsy. I'll be honest, I've never made the most of the Etsy community, teams or the tools they have to offer (I've never really had to as I've always had that comfort of a monthly wage) so this has all been bit of a revelation.
It heartens me to know that there are so many people beavering away, turning their passion into a small business, and understanding all those issues and concerns that I too feel. I really do sense a sea change in the way people shop and they way people think about where, and why, they shop these days - since the recession. It's been a long time coming and I guess it takes something like a recession to question those things.
 This is the time, if we want it, for the whole shop local ethos to flourish. Shop local and shop independent that is. Shopping in a way that puts money and investment back into our communities - whether that be our local communities, and high streets, or the worldwide community of small independent businesses who are doing all they can to keep their head above water.
Actually, this, just might have, unintentionally, turned into a post about giving up the day job. Sorry about that.

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10. eep!!! manchester children's book festival 2014

Do you have those occasional moments, when you're looking in the mirror and you realise you have blue hair and sparkly gloves and look like Dame Edna, that you think, how did I ever start doing this? If you'd told me I'd be doing things like this, even ten years ago, I never would have believed you.

The number one thing that struck me about the Manchester Children's Book Festival was... THE SEA MONKEYS. They were everywhere!!! Here are two that my co-author Philip Reeve and I drew for Simply Books indie bookshop just outside of Manchester, in Bramhall.

Kaye Tew and James Draper who run the festival asked us early on if it would be okay to use the Sea Monkeys from Oliver and the Seawigs for their mascot and we were thrilled to see them popping up all over the Internet before we even arrived!

The chief instigator of the Manchester Sea Monkey Invasion was Ann Lam, who's here (bottom left) with her two kids (her daughter helped her out with quite a bit of the knitting). She used the knitting and stitching pattern that my studio mate Deadly Knitshade (aka Lauren O'Farrell) designed and can be downloaded free from my website.

Check out all those awesome Seawigs!!! Loads of people made them for the Grand Seawig Parade. Here's Manchester librarian Debra Conroy looking incredible... and more Sea Monkeys!

Having the parade indoors was a great idea, as the rain couldn't put off anyone or ruin their fabulous headgear.

And I got to feel like Grace Kelly, or Evita, or the Queen, doing the balcony waving thing, ha ha.

Philip and I also visited Manchester Children's Hospital, which runs its own on-location school, and the staff had absolutely thrown themselves into the spirit of things. They said it was amazing, how many different things they could make out of a paper sick bowl!

We visited as guests of ReadWell, a wonderful charity that provide books to children in hospital. They go around with their rolling shelves (shown here) so kids can choose what they want to read. And the books are new, so that there won't be problems with infection for the kids in the isolation wards.

We led an event and a Seawigs Parade in the big lobby, and then went around visiting kids in the wards, and we could see how they'd light up when it was their chance to pick out a book. The school had enjoyed bringing Oliver and the Seawigs into the curriculum and it had inspired a lot of craft projects besides the Seawigs, including this diorama of Cliff the Rambling Isle.

It was fun seeing kids of all different ages - and their parents - getting involved and having fun, despite having some major physical setbacks. You can follow ReadWell on twitter: @ReadWellUK.

Great Seawig by Tracey Gallier! She's Assistant Head Teacher at the Manchester Children's Hospital School.

So much creativity! You can read more about our visit to the hospital over on the festival blog.

Janet and Maisie Chamberlain, both sporting fine Seawigs:

And little Joseph, who had our big flip chart Sea Monkey named after him and somehow managed to get back and make quite an elaborate lion thank you card for us before we visited him in his room. The glue was still wet! This guy was awesome, and had loads of good questions and comments for us. He had a full Seawig of decorations on his roving medical stand, which was named Mr Robot-Man.

The Sea Monkeys followed us wherever we went. When my husband Stuart and I checked into our hotel, there was one right there at reception!

And when we arrived in our room, there was a magazine with a big picture, which made me feel a bit giddy. (Thank you, Lancashire Magazine! Click on the pic for a larger image.)

When I saw that, I realised just how much costume the organisers were expecting, and they weren't going to get the six-foot Seawig, as I'd have to have arrived by forklift. And I'd forgotten my fancy gloves. So Stuart and I paid a visit to Afflecks Palace and stocked up.

Look, another great Seawig! This one's by the excellent Rachel Bruce.

A huge thanks to the team for making the Grand Seawigs Parade day so much fun! And thank you to everyone who waited patiently for Philip and me to sign and draw in your books; we hope you like them.

The night after our hospital visit and before our Seawigs Parade, we went to the opening launch event, where local drummers and dancers did some great performances for us.

The festival was also raffling off some of the Sea Monkeys, which disturbed me greatly, as I wanted to take them ALL HOME WITH ME.

Check out Ann Lam's notebook; she made some lovely sketches planning out different themed Sea Monkeys to go with different events.

And each Sea Monkey had its own profile!

Rachel Bruce and I joked that it was really an early version of a dating website, and that Zom doesn't care about looks, only brains.

Poet Laureate (and original instigator of the festival) Carol Ann Duffy officially opened the festival by reading one of her poems. This is the third year the festival has run, and organiser James Draper said they might go from doing it every two years to doing it every year, which is exciting and will take LOTS OF WORK. We passed by her office when I was looking for a mirror to fix my wig, and she works with James, teaching at Manchester Writing School, part of Manchester Metropolitan University.

I showed you the Sea Monkey picture that Philip and I drew for Simply Books; here we are outside the lovely shop, with owners Andrew and Sue Steel. They've been running it for ten years, and had no experience in running a bookshop. But Andrew was tired of his job, they brainstormed what they really wanted to do, and took the risk to do it. They really focus on being part of the community, and we saw lots of people come in for a chat and a cup of tea or a piece of cake in their little cafe, as well as buying books.

They had illustrator art everywhere. Here's a stairway painted for them by Emily Gravett as their reward for a competition:

And pictures on their wall by loads of illustrators we knew! See if you can identify any!

Sue took us to a school in Cheadle, Lady Barn House School, and we talked about Oliver and the Seawigs with them and led them in drawing Sea Monkeys. One quick teacher even managed to have a whole poster finished, made up of some of their drawings, before we left!

Thanks so much for hosting us, Lady Barn House! (And for the packed lunch you sent along with us!)

The festival's running for quite a long time - 26 June - 6 July - so we only overlapped with a few of the other guest speakers. But we were very glad to have the chance to spend time with writer Cerrie Burnell, author of a picture book called Snowflakes. Do you know the Evil Emperor Penguin comic strip in The Phoenix Comic? It's written and drawn by Laura Ellen Anderson, who also illustrated Snowflakes! We got to have dinner and breakfast with Cerrie and talked about books, including how we both felt it was important to show mixed-race families in picture books. (Her Snowflakes and my There's a Shark in the Bath both include parents from different races, but it's just an incidental detail in both, not part of the story.)

Huge thanks to everyone who made the festival possible, to wonderful Manchester-based publicist Liz Scott, who liased for us and made everything run smoothly, and to Kaye and James, who have been working their tails off for this. They're a great double act! You can follow the festival on Twitter at @MCBF2014 and be sure to keep an eye out for daily updates on their blog.

The festival's only just begun, and the Sea Monkeys are itching to try out all sorts of new shenanigans. Here's James, keeping a very close eye on them.

Goodbye, Manchester! Huge apologies to people I didn't manage to catch up with while I was there - the whole thing was a bit of a whirlwind - and I hope to see you again soon.

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11. the manchester sea monkey invasion!

Wow, Manchester Children's Book Festival has gone mad for Sea Monkeys! And it's culminating in a glorious Sea Monkey explosion this weekend! Check out all the stuff happening at this Saturday's Family Fun Day.

They put out a call for knitted Sea Monkeys (knitting pattern created by Deadly Knitshade, here on my website)...

And the Super Monkey Shout-out resulted in lots of super monkeys!

If you're anywhere near Manchester this Saturday, don't miss drawing a Sea Monkey and taking part in the Grand Seawigs Parade at 1:30. (Just grab anything you can find and stick it on your head; that's what the Rambling Isles do.) Then join us at 2:00 for Oliver and the Seawigs fun! (Booking details here.)

But back to those wonderfully cheeky Sea Monkeys, I just can't get enough of them.

My co-author Philip Reeve and I will be visiting Manchester Children's Hospital with a great charity called Readwell, who supply books to children in hospital. They even raise money to buy fresh, new books for children in isolation units, who aren't allowed to touch regular library books that have been handled by other people.

Hopefully the Sea Monkeys can bring some good cheer. It looks like they're bringing it already!

Philip and I will also be stopping in for a signing at Bramhall indie bookseller Simply Books at 9:30am on Friday, and then to Lady Barn House School for more Seawigs shenanigans. Which the Sea Monkeys have been busy organising!

What could possibly go wrong?


They have MEETINGS.

And they love drawing pictures of themselves.

Oo, look, one of them's making a Seawig!

And they've been going on outings! I wonder how good their driving skills are.

Oh dear, a Sea Monkey and a police bike might not be a good combination. Look out for further monkey mayhem.

If you want to see more Sea Monkeys or find out about the festival, check out their website, their blog, and follow them on Twitter at @MCBF2014, Sea Monkey wrangler Ann Lam @apytown and hospital children's book charity @ReadWellUK.

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12. Thin Men with Yellow Faces Event

This is Horror are hosting an event on Saturday September 22 to celebrate the launch of their second chapbook Thin Men with Yellow Faces by Gary McMahon and Simon Bestwick. Joining Simon and Gary will be Ramsey Campbell, Conrad Williams and Jasper Bark.

The launch event will be held at MadLab in Manchester from 6:30pm running through to 8:15 pm.Tickets are just £3 and you can purchase them via the This is Horror website. I have mine and if you're in the area then go get yours. Thin Men with Yellow Faces will be available for the special price of £4 in Manchester for one night only and as it's a collaboration between two hugely talented writers you know it's going to kick-ass.

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13. Women, sex, and the anonymous changers of history

The twentieth century in Europe was an urban century: it was shaped by life in, and the view from, the street.

Women were not liberated in legislatures, claims Leif Jerram, but liberated themselves in factories, homes, nightclubs, and shops. Lenin, Hitler, and Mussolini made themselves powerful by making cities ungovernable with riots rampaging through streets, bars occupied one-by-one. New forms of privacy and isolation were not simply a by-product of prosperity, but because people planned new ways of living, new forms of housing in suburbs and estates across the continent. Our proudest cultural achievements lie not in our galleries or state theatres, but in our suburban TV sets, the dance halls, pop music played in garages, and hip hop sung on our estates.

In Streetlife, Leif Jerram presents a totally new history of the twentieth century, with the city at its heart, showing how everything distinctive about the century, from revolution and dictatorship to sexual liberation, was fundamentally shaped by the great urban centres which defined it. Below are three videos in which Leif talks about women’s rights, sexual liberation, and the anonymous history changers.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Leif Jerram was born in Woolwich in south-east London in 1971, and lived there until he went to study history at university. After having lived in San Diego, Bremen, Munich, and Paris, he settled in Manchester to do his PhD – the first industrial city. There he has remained, barring a brief stint as a fellow at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He is currently a lecturer in urban history in the School of Arts at Manchester University, as well as being involved in community politics and activism. He has published widely in the field of cultural and urban history, including most recently Streetlife: How Cities Made Modern Europe. You can read Leif’s previous OUPblog post here.

View more about this book on the

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14. Are riots normal? Or, ‘Don’t panic, Captain Mainwaring!’

By Leif Jerram As we watch riots tear through the centres of British cities, many people have (instinctively and understandably) tried to see something of profound importance in them. For Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, they show why the budget for his police force should not be cut. For those on the left, the riots have been an essay in the perils of vacuous consumerism on the one hand, and shameless abandonment of the poor by the state on the other. And for our Conservative prime minister, it is confirmation that parts of our society are sick and evil.

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15. Some kind of normality

Last Friday saw us begin a marathon of cross country travelling 'up North' for the funeral of Andy's Nan. Normally we'd have gone by motorbike and it would have taken about two or three hours, but with the UK suffering sub-zero temperatures and my arm being ho
w it is, we booked train tickets from Oxford. So began a hodgepodge journey starting with us setting off the dark, icy early morning, layered up like Michelin men on the bike, leaving the bike with Debs-of-the-bees who lives nearer to the city, catching a bus to Oxford, then a train to Manchester, picked up by car, fed and watered by Andy's nice parents and another car journey to Yorkshire for an overnight stay at a motel. It snowed overnight and Selby Abbey, where the simple service was held, was looking stunning. The sun came out; a nice way to say goodbye to a long life which was finally at rest.
Later that day we did the same journey in reverse, but slower. Driving through the vibrant city of Manchester to the station was a surreal experience for both of us. We felt a little like visitors from a secluded community, goggling at the new space-age office blocks, the hordes of shoppers clutching bulging shopping bags (how much *stuff* does a person need???) the crowded eateries, the groups of rowdy night-outers...it was like descending into some kind of urban hell, not improved by
the various football fans being police-escorted and later on the train, the distinctly un-charming presence of racist thugs getting tanked up on cheap lager. We decided to stay standing up in the corridor well away from them, until they disembarked.
It took over 6 hours to return, ending with a slow, wind chilled half hour ride near midnight, along treacherous roads covered in black ice, both of us frozen by the time we arrived back to a cottage full of sleepy cats. Rarely have I felt so thankful to be home. But this sad, necessary journey was a marker for us; we had decided that Monday was going to be 'N-Day' - a return to Normality. And so it has been. I am finally back in bed, bolstered up and last night had the best night's s

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16. Jonathan Franzen in Manchester

My friend Christian Stretton (artist, librarian, dad!) went to see author Jonathan Franzen in Manchester last week (3rd October). He reports back:

When Jonathan Franzen appears behind the lectern at the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester, he stops and stands amidst all the applause with a confused look on his face. Franzen is caught in a moment of time directly between the generous media coverage of his new book Freedom being recalled for pulping, and the equally extensive column inches devoted to the spectacles snatch which will occur tomorrow night.

This pregnant pause though is not due to his being at the centre of a media whirlwind. Instead, his confusion is brought about by the nature of the lectern which he stands behind. In fact, the lectern is an improvised ‘customer comments’ box and, as such, is much too short for his tall frame, and has no place on which he can rest his book. He wrestles the box onto the stage, and then shuffles it around, before looking up and grinning, as if noticing us for the first time.

If you were aware of Franzen’s work only through the copious articles and reviews which he garners, it would be easy to hate him. But to read his books, and to see him speaking confidently, openly about his writing, is another matter. Seeing him here tonight as a vulnerable, all too human writer, a gulf appears evident.

There are many questions tonight (from Dave Haslam) about Franzen’s media presence: he shifts uncomfortably in his seat when asked about the ‘Great American Novelist’ label, talks about the ‘unreality’ of these promotion tours, and even mentions Oprah. But these are not his most interesting (or revealing) answers. Only when Haslam gets down to the writing do we find Franzen exposed. When asked if he reveals his own political beliefs even when writing in character, his articulate response explains how he has many differing opinions in his head, each held to be true at the same time, and the characters that he creates are a way of resolving these differences.

Haslam clearly admires Franzen, and so his line of questioning is unlikely to provoke. Nevertheless, when he asks about Franzen’s own teenage years, the audience note a small crumble in the time it takes for Franzen to compose his answer. ‘At the start of the tour, I said I wasn’t going to talk about the meaning of the title,’ he begins, tantalisingly. The ‘Freedom’ of the title, he goes on to explain, is more about his own personal freedom from his past. This book, it seems, was his release; a way of breaking from his adolescent self. ‘I feel like I was an adolescent until about two years ago’ he smirks (Franzen is 52 years old).

There is no question, Franzen presents himself well. By his own admission, he is unafraid of public speaking, so doesn’t really see the polarity of his writing life, compared to his promotional life. By the end of the evening, we are all charmed by his answers. Yet, for all his success, I feel sympathy for a gentle, fragile man with a talent for constructing a good sentence, caught in the eye of a storm that he seems incapable of creating himself, and unlikely to enjoy.

As I leave, he shakes my hand. A confident American handshake with good eye contact. He seems to have enjoyed tonight, for all its unreality.

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17. British politician believes dyslexia a myth


"It is time that the dyslexia industry was killed off and we recognised that there are well-known methods for teaching everybody to read and write."
Graham Stringer MP

Nobody said that politicians had to be smart to get elected. Case in point, a British Labor Member of Parliment who commented in an online column that dyslexia was a myth perpetrated by educators to cover up poor teaching.

I'm sure those who are in education must have been in shock to read this statement.

The politician, one Graham Stringer, described the condition as "cruel fiction" and should be consigned to the "dustbin of history." Furthermore, he says he believes that many children can't read or write because - well - merely the wrong teaching methods are used.

Silly teachers! All those years of university to acquire knowledge and know-how to pass on to young, fertile minds only to hear from a non-teacher that they have been using the wrong methods. It's so...logical! Were that only the case...

Responding to the politician's conclusion, Charity Dyslexia Action said that dyslexia was real to the six million people in the UK who were affected by the condition.

In the column, which appeared in the Manchester Confidential, Stringer opined that millions of pounds were wasted on specialist teaching for what he labeled, a "false" condition. He also wrote that children should instead be taught to read and write by using a system called, synthetic phonics.

And the politico knows this...how?

"To label children as dyslexic because they're confused by poor teaching methods is wicked.
If dyslexia really existed then countries as diverse as Nicaragua and South Korea would not have been able to achieve literacy rates of nearly 100%. There can be no rational reason why this 'brain disorder' is of epidemic proportions in Britain but does not appear in South Korea or Nicaragua."

Financial considerations appear to be a factor in his statements. He wrote that "currently, 35,500 students receive disability allowances for dyslexia at an annual cost of £78.4m."

Furthermore, certified dyslexics get longer in exams.

Makes sense to me. If you have trouble reading/understanding the question, it takes longer to write an answer!

Read the rest of Stringer's beliefs and reader's comments and reactions related to the story, here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/manchester/7828121.stm

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18. Gaskell's house to get £2.5m

Via the Manchester Evening News:

Work will begin early next year on the £2.5m restoration of one of English literature's most significant landmarks.

Number 84 Plymouth Grove in Ardwick is the house where Elizabeth Gaskell wrote many of her novels, including Cranford and Wives and Daughters.

Historians have been working and fundraising for the last decade to preserve the house and Manchester council has granted planning permission for the work to begin.

Janet Allan, chairman of the Manchester Historic Buildings Trust, which now owns the house, said: "It still has its original features, including ceiling cornices, doors and windows.

"It is a beautiful building and among the homes of women writers, only the houses of the Brontë sisters and Jane Austen rival Plymouth Grove in importance." (More...)

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19. Transmission Weblog

A note from the good folk at the Manchester-based literary magazine Transmission:

That’s right folks, the new Transmission Weblog is here! It has taken the place of our previous news page and with it we will be keeping you up to date with the goings on at Transmission HQ, as well as reporting on the wider literary world.

As we gingerly dip our toes in the cyber waters of the 21st Century, visit our blog and let us know what you would like to see develop there and on the rest of the site.


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20. New York Tribute to Carcanet Press

A 30th birthday celebration of Manchester-based poetry publisher Carcanet Press (The Sunday Times Millennium Small Publisher of the Year in 2000) and its Editorial and Managing Director, the poet and critic Professor Michael Schmidt FRSL OBE, will take place at 7.30pm tonight at The Grand Gallery, The National Arts Club, 15 Gramercy Park South, New York. Hosted by the Poetry Society of America, the event will feature an incredible programme of readings by John Ashbery, Eavan Boland, Mark Doty, Marilyn Hacker, Stanley Moss, Kei Miller, Paul Muldoon, Maureen O'Hara, Marie Ponsot, John Peck, Susan Wheeler and David Yezzi. Admission is $10 / $7 for PSA members and students. Visit poetrysociety.org to book tickets.

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21. Alice Oswald Reading

Short notice I know, but this evening at 6pm, in Lecture Theatre 6 of the Geoffrey Manton Building, at MMU, there is going to be an Alice Oswald reading.

Alice is the author of Woods etc. and Dart. She is a past recipient of the Forward Poetry Prize and The Eric Gregory Award, and has been short-listed for the T.S. Elliot Prize. She was named one of the Poetry Book Society's Next Generation poets in 2004. This event is hosted by the Writing School, is open to the public, and is free of charge to students and staff of MMU, £5 (£3 concessions) to the rest of us.

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22. The Manchester Lit List

And now for some local news! Manchester Libraries now has its own literature blog. The Manchester Lit List is "dedicated to literature news and events in Manchester Libraries and partnering organisations. If you're looking for any information on readings by poets and novelists in Manchester, or if you would like to find out more about local and famous writers, then take a look."

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23. Delaney on the radio

This coming Thursday on Radio 4:

Screenwriter Kay Mellor explores the legacy of Shelagh Delaney's play A Taste of Honey, fifty years after it first shocked and enthralled audiences. The play brought social taboos and working-class reality to the London stage as never before. Interviews with the original cast and archive material shed new light on the play's importance for the evolution of British theatre.

Fans of The Smiths and Northerners (Delaney was born in Broughton, Salford, Lancs.) of a certain age and hue will understand my nostalgia for this slice of sociology (which was one of the first things I ever saw in the theatre).

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24. The Tour Begins To Loom...

posted by Neil
Lots of tour and signing questions starting to come in. But first...

Hi Neil,
Hopefully this email comes after you're dug out of the deluge of other mails. I was recently in Minneapolis and sorry to see that Dreamhaven is downsizing/moving/firing all their employees. If you know yet, what does this mean for them running your commercial site? I terribly liked being able to visit and pickup signed copies or buy something and leave it for when you were next in town.

I don't honestly know. I haven't spoken to Greg Ketter about what he'll be doing with Neilgaiman.net in the new, one-man Dreamhaven. I'll certainly still sign stuff when I stop by, but I'm not entirely clear what he'll be stocking at this point. If it looks like neilgaiman.net isn't going to work through DreamHaven in the future, then I'll have to figure something else out. Either way. I'll keep everyone informed through the blog as soon as I know what's happening.

Dear Neil,
I was just wondering if you ever found out what was going on as regards a signing on the Manchester stop of your tour? You mentioned it might be somewhere other than the talk? I was just wondering as I hadn't seen it mentioned on Manchester's website. Anyway, look forward to hearing (and possibly meeting, if there is a signing) you in Manchester!
All the best,

I think that the plan to have a talk and a separate signing was wisely abandoned, and as far as I can tell, http://www.arts.manchester.ac.uk/martinharriscentre/mhceventspage.php?eventid=598
is the event -- reading and Q&A and signing and all. This at the instigation of my friend Geoff Ryman, who was teaching at Manchester, who then went off to teach in San Diego for six months.

The tragedy of that evening is that Paul & Storm and Jonathan Coulton will also be playing at Manchester University that night -- their doors open at 7:30. I suspect that with military precision and planning it might be possible for someone to see me talk and read and then get off and catch most of P&S and all of Mr Coulton, given that we're both at the University, and, if I've read the web site maps right, doing our stuff within about 500 feet of each other.)

(The good news is that Jonathan Coulton and P&S will be playing The Shepherds Bush Empire on Oct 30th -- the day before I'm doing the London reading, so there shouldn't be any conflict there.)

hi neil!
My girlfriend and i are going to your talk/reading/q and a in Edinburgh and it says you will sign copies of The Graveyard Book i presume this means they will be available there? also would it be totally inappropriate to ask you to sign anything else? i realise there will be a lot of hopefuls there and i wouldn't want to delay anything.

No, it's not inappropriate to ask me to sign something else. (Here's the link to Fidra's blog, with lots of information.)

For the UK this time, the rules are going to be pretty much as laid out in http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2005/05/so-youre-going-to-signing.asp. (The only modification is sometimes I reserve the right to not pose for photographs, now that everyone has an image-capturing device or two on them. You can take any photos you like of me scribbling, you can take photos of you next to me, if you're lucky I'll try and look up when it's time for the flash to go off, but while it doesn't add a long time to each signing, if you multiply it by hundreds of people, it can add a few hours to the signing line. But I'll cheerfully sign, mostly because it's only in London that I ever have to worry about more than 300 people showing up.

For the US tour (NOT the National Book Festival, but everything from New York to St Paul, and I'll repost it all here in easily copyable form as soon as I get all the data) the plan is to make them more of An Evening With Neil Gaiman than a signing, mostly because the numbers at the signings had just got too big to cope with easily, often 700 -1200 people, and it's no fun for anyone when I finish signing every night at one or two in the morning. So each stop will get a complete chapter/story from The Graveyard Book (except for LA and Boulder, who will split Chapter 7), and a long Q&A and talk, and we'll do something more like the event two years ago at Cody's (captured forever by Fora TV). Signed books will be available, but I'll have signed them and doodled in them that afternoon...

And I may or may not have successfully embedded the Fora video here as well.

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25. sleepless in edinburgh and manchester

posted by Neil
Yesterday is all a bit of a blur. This is, I suspect, mostly because I set my alarm for an hour too early this morning and didn't notice until I went out into the hotel lobby to stumble out into the day and realised that it was only a quarter to eight, not a quarter to nine, which meant I'd had about four hours sleep, not about five. I hope I can sleep on a plane or in a car between here and Manchester tonight.

Lovely interviews, lovely event, lovely signing (except possibly for the young lady who fainted in the signing line, and even she popped up at the end to let me know she was feeling better), and lovely incredibly late night dinner afterwards.


Stopped there and stumbled off into the day. Went to The Main Street Trading Company in St Boswells, Scottish Borders, and talked to about forty ten year olds, and did a very small signing. The shop -- a sort of dream bookshop and small town cafe -- is quite beautiful, and it was a wonderful break in between all the giant events to just chat to some children, answer questions, and, later, have a bowl of butternut squash soup. (I also suspect the shop of being peculiarly magic: you might claim that it's coincidence that Nick Sweeting from Improbable Theatre Company was in the shop visiting his parents when I was signing, and that I had almost popped in to see him on Monday in London but ran out of time, but it's a magnificently unlikely coincidence.)

I slept in the car back to Edinburgh, slept on the plane to Manchester.

Manchester was great. I got to be the first author up on that stage to have an opening band -- two of them, in fact, as Paul & Storm and Jonathan Coulton played a very short concert -- one song each -- for the people there. And I finished signing some hours later, and walked to the Jonathan Coulton gig in time for the final encore, "Creepy Doll" where I recited the second voice, overacted as requested, and played tambourine.

What is it with the tambourine thing anyway? I manage to spend an entire life, joyfully tambourineless, and now I have played it on stage in front of people twice in a month. Do I look like someone who would be happier holding a tambourine?

Saw Leah Moore and John Reppion, and then Paul & Storm and Mr Coulton. Paul filmed me for a strangely silly secret project of theirs.

Also, hurrah for 24 hour room service, even if they had run out of everything except irish stew.

So. Bed now, for another night of not-enough-sleep, then I get up and fly to Dublin.

Nearly forgot, Chip Kidd wants suggestions: http://www.goodisdead.com/index.php?/journal/entry/mr_sandman_bring_me_a_dream/

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