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1. jampires book launch!

Photo by James Petrie

Hee hee, it's great fun to stand in the middle of a field wearing sparkly red platform heels when everyone else is walking around in wellies. This weekend my co-author David O'Connell and I launched our new picture book, Jampires, at The Big Feastival in Oxfordshire.

Photo by James Petrie

I couldn't believe it, I forgot to pack my Bakewell Tart hat! Nooooo!

Photo by Dave Warren

But never mind, our book was well and truly launched with a dramatic reading by David and me. (Dave's very good at doing the voices.) And I can rock a converted poodle skirt. (Thanks to my mum for helping me sew on all the Jampires.)

Photo by Neill Cameron

And I taught everyone how to draw a Jampire! 'But what is a Jampire?' you may ask. Well, if you've ever bitten into a jam doughnut and found it disappointingly dry and jamless, they are the culprits. These little critters suck out them jam. They LOVE jam. Our book is basically a hymn to jam.

Photo by James Petrie

And you can learn how to draw a Jampire, too! David and I have put all sorts of goodies on our new website, so do have fun exploring it: jampires.com

View as a PDF

We have masks, too! Check out the website! :)

Photo by James Petrie

Since the Jampires are obsessed with jam, we had actual jam on site...

Photo by James Petrie

...and an actual jam maker, who has joined our Jampires team! Meet Emma Preston-Dunlop, jam maker extraordinaire, who gave us a little lesson on how to make jam, and treated us to samples of her tasty concoctions.

Photo by James Petrie

Emma runs a jam company called The Butch Institute and while raspberry jam is always my favourite, she gives it a real run for its money with her Cherry Bakewell with amaretto syrup and almonds.

Photo by James Petrie

Since The Big Feastival's all about food, we explored, and went straight for the PIE. Gotta love a pie. Emma taught me how to eat it from a carton without getting gravy all over my skirt.

Photo by James Petrie

And our lovely publisher, David Fickling, cycled all the way over from Oxford - a two-hour journey across many hills - to be there for our launch. Hurrah! (He didn't cycle in his signature bowtie, but he put it on as soon as he arrived.)

Photo by James Petrie

JAM. Who doesn't dream about The Great Jam Pot in the Sky? *wistful sigh*

Dave and I couldn't be there both days, so actor Devon Black stepped in and led her own Jampires session on the Sunday, which looked brilliant. She made a costume, a whole new show, and I hear she did a brilliant job! Thank you SO MUCH, Devon!!

Photo tweeted by Philippa Perry

Feastival had some rival vampiric creatures, not all as small and cuddly as our Jampire.

Photo by James Petrie

After a little scare, he got a cuddle from Neill Cameron, and everything was all right.

So Neill was mostly busy drawing comic characters over in The Phoenix Comic area. He's the amazing creator of stories such as Pirates of Pangaea, Mega Robo Bros and has a new book out, How to Make Awesome Comics. Here's a Cyborg Mode Jamie Oliver (the chef who hosts the festival, along with Blur bassist-turned-cheesemaking-farmer Alex James):

The drive to Feastival was quite a long one, and our friend James Petrie was a hero and gave us all a lift in his car. As you can see, Dave and I were terrible back-seat drivers.

Lovely Dave. It's not just his genius talent, you see; I mostly work with him because he has such beautiful flowing tresses.

Big group selfie! Huge thanks to David Fickling for publishing us, Emma for being such a great Jam Master, Devon for Sunday's awesomeness, Feastival for hosting us, fab publicist Philippa Perry for organising the day, James for driving and photos, and Ann Lam for our knitted Jampire. Jammy times!

Head over to the David Fickling Books website to see their blog about Jampires, and jampires.com for all your jammy needs.

Jammy Twitter links: @davidoconnell, @DFB_Storyhouse, @ButchInstitue, #JAMPIRES

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2. Scottish Space Adventure: Edinburgh Book Festival 2014

This year Edinburgh Book Festival was OUT OF THIS WORLD!

My literary co-pilot Philip Reeve and I had been putting together a Cakes in Space stage show and this was our first full-on performance. (Since Reeve lives on Dartmoor and I'm in London, we only had one other chance to practice, at Nine Worlds a couple weeks before Edinburgh.) And just as we were leaving for Scotland, this fabulous animated Cakes in Space trailer popped up, made by Ed Beck & David Mead from MB Films:

Our book features a spaceship food machine called the NOM-O-TRON, so we brought along a smaller, portable version:

And I showed everyone how to draw Pilbeam the robot and a killer cake! Here's one of the drawings, tweeted in by @Lorna_May_D:

I still can't quite get over seeing Reeve in streaky blue hair and lipstick.

And we even got our portraits shot by festival photographer Chris Close. We were the only authors he took into his special anti-gravity booth. Thanks, Chris!

When Stuart and I first arrived at the book festival, I raced around looking at all the other photos... and spotted some friendly faces! Here's Philip Ardagh (who works with Axel Sheffler on his The Grunts books; Axel draws Julia Donaldson's Gruffalo - that's the link to the little chappie on his shoulder - and Babette Cole, with characters from her new James Rabbit and the Giggleberries book.

And while I was there, Babette drew me a birthday picture! Thank you, Babette! :D She made sure I paid special attention to the space pants.

I did quite a lot of costume changes, and Stuart was wonderful about helping me with them, even if he thought I was slightly nuts.

On the Thursday, I had a full day of Outreach Events in Fife. The festival organises these so schools and libraries outside of central Edinburgh can still take part in the festival. Here I am in the festival Yurt, very early in the morning, practicing my There's a Shark in the Bath song. I first sang it at the Hay Festival and I was super-nervous, but I'm a bit more confident about it now.

I took those sharks to Kirkcaldy West Primary School. They were great fun, that lot! And we even got our pictures in the local paper. (Thanks for tweeting that, Damon Herd!)

My assistants and I got to have lunch at the beautiful new Kirkcaldy Galleries:

The Schools Outreach is very strict about not taking photos in the schools, so I only got one. But it's of the excellent team who took me around on the day: Outreach coordinators Sarah Bingham, Grainne Crawford and Rona Neilson and a tag-along Jampire. Thanks so much, team!

One of the challenges of Edinburgh Book Fest is trying to do a few other things outside the book festival. But this time Stuart and I made a point of going to see our friend Emma Vieceli acting at The Fringe festival, in a play called Parade. She did a great job! Emma now makes comics, but she started out as a children's telly presenter and she's recorded music, and it's fun seeing her go back to her roots.

Ah, here's Emma (second from right)! Together with comics people Hannah Berry, Pat Mills and their partners:

On the way to Emma's play, Stuart spotted my Summer Reading Challenge banner in the front window of the new Edinburgh Central Children's Library, together with two of Philip Reeve's three GOBLINS books. Cool!

Another fun thing about Edinburgh is going out for publisher dinners and meet other authors who are published by the same team. Here's Philip, our excellent Oxford University Press publicist Keo Baxendine (who did a lot of our planning) and another of their writers, Wendy Meddour, whose 12-year-old daughter illustrates their Wendy Quill books. (Or maybe her daughter's older now, but still, pretty amazing.)

And hanging out in the Authors Yurt is fun, too. Everyone's sort of equal in there, so you can talk with anyone (and grab cake and whisky and other nice treats and meals). Look, it's Children's Laureate Malorie Blackman! While we were there, Malorie did an interview with a Sky reporter, quite rightly calling for more diversity in children's books, and got stuck with a very bad headline, which caused massive internet outrage, and quite a lot of abuse, too. But Malorie stuck by her guns, and all our colleagues rallied around her, and the whole thing made it much more clear just why we need more diversity in books. Not in a tick-the-box sort of way, but in a way that lots of different kinds of people can find other people like themselves in books. Patrick Ness talked on Twitter about how he couldn't find any books about gay people in his school library, and there aren't that many UK children's books with black people as the main characters. Here's Malorie's initial Sky interview, and a Guardian article about her response.

Here's Malorie's Summer Reading Challenge video:

More exciting encounters: it's Di Cameron from Oxford's Story Museum, comics artist Adam Murphy in The Phoenix Comic), comics colourist Lisa Murphy, Cameron Jr and comics artist Neill Cameron! Adam and Neill both have new books out with The Phoenix Comic and David Ficking books, compilations of their Phoenix work: Corpse Talk by Adam and How to Make Awesome Comics by Neill. Lisa did quite a lot of the colouring for Adam, and has also coloured for my studio mate Gary Northfield (Gary's Garden) when he was pressed for time.

Philip and I were hugely flattered that Geraldine McCaughrean came to our event! Geraldine's been a big influence on Philip, and her book The White Darkness is one of my all-time faves. Geraldine's on Twitter now: you can follow her: @GMcCaughrean.

Philip and I did two Cakes in Space events, one for schools and one for the general public. During the schools event, festival sketcher Morag Edward drew us! She did a great job, but I don't think we made it easy for her: "You moved around a lot!"


Ha ha, I got this week at Afflecks Palace in Manchester during an earlier festival, and I love the name of it: Skyscraper Blond.

Head of Marketing and Publicity Elaine McQuade from Oxford University Press came with Philip and me to Wester Hailes Library to do another Outreach event, this time featuring Oliver and the Seawigs. I'm really getting into this wig thing. My bird thought Elaine was rather splendid and cuddled up. One of the librarians had a phobia of feathers, so I had to put away my fluffy fan.

We had a great time at Wester Hailes, drawing Sea Monkeys with everyone and singing the EEP song, but I didn't get any photos. Our next stop was Leith Library, where we were helping them with their Summer Reading Challenge final medal ceremony. First I sang an opera aria...

Photo by Jeff Holmes

(No, not really.) If you've been following my blog, you'll have seen that MYTHICAL MAZE theme of this year's Summer Reading Challenge has been a big part of my lasts few months. I got to be the official illustrator, and when I first took on the job, I met with kids at Leith Library and got their ideas and feedback on some of the characters. So it was great coming full circle and hearing how they'd enjoyed the challenge, and congratulating them for reading their six books.

Photo by Jeff Holmes

We tried to slide the medals on gracefully and not get them stuck on anyone's ears. It's a tricky task.

Photo by Jeff Holmes

Philip and I read a bit from our Oliver and the Seawigs, the myth we've created, and I talked with the kids a bit about myth making. There's no way to say your characters will be remembered thousands of years from now, like Medusa or the Minotaur, but if you do your best, you never know!

Photo by Jeff Holmes

I led everyone in drawing Medusa, Edinburgh City Libraries' Simon Radcliffe said a few words, and our sponsor, Tesco Bank, took a big Summer Reading Challenge group photo.

Photo by Jeff Holmes

One of the fun things about this summer is the way so many kids and librarians have dressed up in mythical creature costumes, and the photographers took us outside for a few more cosplay shots:

Photo by Jeff Holmes

Whee! Thank you, Edinburgh! A huge thanks to the festival's Children & Education Programme Director Janet Smyth, and you can follow the festival on Twitter: @EdBookFest and see some other things that happened on the #EdBookFest hash tag.

Photo by Jeff Holmes

As much as I love book festivals, I find them exhausting, and I was very grateful that I didn't have to go straight back to the drawing desk (despite impending deadlines). Stuart and I took a couple more days to visit Glasgow Auntie, and she looked after us wonderfully. Here she is, having an intimate moment with a Jampire.

Glasgow Auntie took us to beautiful Troon. I had no idea Troon had such an amazing beach.

But jellyfish... JELLYFISH! We were glad we weren't swimming. Check out this alien creature that had washed up:

One last shot with lovely Stuart in the Troon sun.

Bye bye, Scotland, but just for now! If you're further south and still want to see our Cakes in Space performance, there are still a few spaces left for our Saturday morning family-friendly launch at Daunt Books Marylebone, central London on 13 Sept at 10:30am. Book your free ticket now! (You can come with kids or without, in space costume or not, it's up to you!) :)

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3. Venice Film Festival Selects ‘Boxtrolls’ And Two Animated Shorts

The Venice Film Festival, which is the world's oldest film festival, announced the line-up today for their 71st edition. The festival is known for not giving much consideration to animated cinema, but they always throw in a few animated films.

0 Comments on Venice Film Festival Selects ‘Boxtrolls’ And Two Animated Shorts as of 7/25/2014 12:46:00 AM
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4. World Premieres of ‘Big Hero 6′ and ‘Parasyte’ Set for Tokyo International Film Festival

The Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) is putting a special emphasis on animation this year, and has announced that Disney's "Big Hero 6" will be the opening night film of their 27th edition.

0 Comments on World Premieres of ‘Big Hero 6′ and ‘Parasyte’ Set for Tokyo International Film Festival as of 7/31/2014 8:42:00 PM
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5. comics jamming at london world con

Last Friday I went to the huge international Science Fiction convention that is World Con, this year hosted right in my hometown! (And somewhat confusingly, also called < ahref="http://www.loncon3.org/">LonCon3</a>.) And I saw some familiar faces right away! Spot the family who were in my Nine Worlds convention blog post from the previous weekend... (The lady in the excellent Vivien of Holloway dress is Adela Terrell.)

And since I was going to lead a Comics Jam session, I wore my best Jampires dress! And brought along my beautiful new Jampire friend, knitted as a surprise by Ann Lam. Poor little Jampire; World Con was a BIG PLACE and he couldn't find jam anywhere, just post-apocalyptic landscape.

First photo tweeted by @ExLibrisNora

Meanwhile, I was schmoozing it up in the Green Room with writer Emma Newman in her amazing red frock coat. Wait, check it out, the Green Room at the Excel Centre was in this crazy pod on stilts. Funnily enough, I also sat right by George RR Martin in there, but since I don't watch or read Game of Thrones;, the experience was a bit wasted on me and I chatted with fab Hannah Berry instead. Cons are like that for me, I don't know any of the people I'm supposed to know, because I never get a chance to WATCH TELLY.

So for the Comics Jam session, I brought along a range of indie/self-published comics, a mix of work by adults and kids, to show to the group. And I talked about how writing and drawing are one thing, but making their own books is even better, because they can learn how a whole book is put together, practice the form, and play around a bit with marketing it, designing covers, etc.

Here we are, in the midst of the Comics Jam, everyone working on panel number three at the same time.

And a couple of the comics we came up with, each panel drawn by a different person:

One of the dads in particular was very interested in helping his son find out more about making comics, and I was hugely pleased to be able to recommend Neill Cameron's brand-new book, How to Make Awesome Comics. In the past, I've recommended Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics, but I find Scott's book has a bit too much advanced technical theory for younger kids, say, under 10 or 12. Neill's book is a wonderful gap-filler and I know I will be recommending it often. (You can buy it here from The Phoenix Comic online shop, among lots of other great kid-appropriate comics.)

Oh, and as a side-note, Scott McCloud will be a special guest this October at the Lakes Internation Comic Art Festival in Kendal, which I'll be attending. Neill does lots of workshops at the Story Museum in Oxford and elsewhere, so keep an eye on his website events page.

If anyone from the Comics Jam is looking for guidance specifically on running more Comics Jams, I've created a guide with my Jampires picture book co-author David O'Connell on our Jampires.com website.

Click here to read more

I also spoke on another panel on art, and then went to see Audrey Niffenegger give the English PEN H.G. Wells talk. I sat next to Sophie Lyons, who'd studied on Audrey's novel writing course in Chicago. Audrey talked about Wells' short story The Door in the Wall, which I managed to find and read online late that night. It's like a dark inversion of one of my childhood favourites, The Secret Garden, about a man who once finds a wonderous door to a garden and then spends the rest of his life yearning for that garden; he's unable to find the door, except at the most inopportune times, when he feels he can't take time to walk through it. Good stuff.

And here are some of the LonCon team! There's Maura McHugh, Erin Horáková, James Bacon and Esther MacCalum-Stewart, and they all looked after me very well. Thanks so much!

I knew Maura from trips to Ireland, where she had hosted me when I spoke to the Dublin chapter of Laydeez Do Comics. Maura does loads of things, but you might know her for the famous list she made of currently practicing female comic artists in the UK and Ireland... Ah, and I see she's widened it to Wome in Comics in Europe! You can follow her on Twitter as @splinister.

I made a quick foray into the Dealers Hall and saw the art exhbition, and was particularly pleased to see my ol' studio mate Ellen Lindner's books on display at the Soaring Penguin table, manned by John Anderson and Nora Goldberg.

So my experience doesn't even begin to encompass the vast scale of the con, and it ran for five days. But I was glad to have a little window into it, for the day I was there. Thanks, Maura and James, for inviting me to be a part of it!

I'll leave you with a few more of the Comics Jams.

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6. Drawing the Summer - Festival Fun!

Sheffield Museums have had funding for an exciting new festival this year, called Drawing the Summer. It's all about getting people to draw: everyone and anyone, especially encouraging those who don't normally do it, to have a go.

It's such a great idea - there are so many people out there who secretly want to draw, but who lack the confidence, or just the time in their busy lives, to get out some paper and 
just try.

As well as lots of practical hands-on events, there are also some great exhibitions on, to tie in with the festival: the Recording Britain Now show in the Millennium Gallery is wonderful - really exciting and varied new work by artists shortlisted for the 2014 Ruskin prize. There is also an excellent series of lithographs from 1916 by Joseph Pennell at The Graves. They bowled me over!

© Catherine Mailhac for Museums Sheffield

Anyway, one of many activities taking place for the festival involved Yours Truly on Monday. Museums Sheffield commissioned me to host an urban sketching session in the centre of Sheffield. 

© Catherine Mailhac for Museums Sheffield

Our Drawing the Summer base-camp was a big table set up with drawing boards and stools, pencils, A3 paper and a big box of coloured pencils. We strung a washing-line up too, so we could peg up drawings. We had two lovely big banners, but it was so windy, we couldn't use them. Hence all the multiple pegs above!

© Catherine Mailhac for Museums Sheffield

We grabbed any passers-by, to ask if they fancied stopping and doing a sketch. There was plenty to draw: as well as all the extremely varied architecture, Tudor Square has a couple of table-tennis tables set up for the summer months so, to get the ball rolling, I had a go at sketching some of the different people who stopped for a while, to play:

We clocked 80 people during the 2.5 hours we were set up, but my favourite was this man, who said he had never drawn before, but who sat for about an hour, very carefully drawing a complex view of the buildings, which turned out really well. I think he was astonished at what he'd achieved.

© Catherine Mailhac for Museums Sheffield

Many people took their work home, some gave it to us to peg up on the line. Some people asked for help and advice, which was where I came in, but mostly they just got stuck in. I obviously had my sketch gear too, so when I wasn't needed, I drew alongside them, hoping to attract attention and perhaps to inspire. This was one view from our table: 

The older kids were lovely to watch: we had various families with children, often around 8 - 11 years old.  In an age of short attention-spans, it was interesting to see how well the act of drawing focussed them. They sat, totally absorbed, for around an hour at a time and created drawings which were strong and confident.

© Catherine Mailhac for Museums Sheffield

One very interesting thing I noticed: the Crucible and The Old Monk pub in Tudor square have prominent lettering. Adults always started by drawing the shapes of the buildings and then added in the typography afterwards, so invariably ran out of space for the letters. The children all started by drawing the lettering, then created the building shapes around the words, so that everything fitted. A curious difference.

© Catherine Mailhac for Museums Sheffield

There are still lots of events to go, between now and September 10th, in fact there is another very similar event tomorrow (Sunday 24th) at Weston Park, so you too could have a go. Whether you are an experienced sketcher or a complete beginner, it'll be fun. And if you really don't want to draw yourself, there are still some excellent talks and demonstrations you will enjoy. Check out the Events Guide and look for the yellow pencil icon.

© Catherine Mailhac for Museums Sheffield

In the meantime, if you want to see more photos from my Tudor Square event on Monday, take a look here.

0 Comments on Drawing the Summer - Festival Fun! as of 8/23/2014 4:57:00 AM
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7. hay festival 2014: doing our best diva impressions

Look! I have come up in the world; I now have a Inflatable Shark Blower-Upper! :D

Now here's the thing about the Hay Festival: it's a public collection of people who usually come up with their ideas for books while sitting alone in their houses or studios, very often in their pyjamas. And suddenly, they're taken to rural Wales and thrust onto stages in front of hundreds of people to entertain the audience for an hour. ...WHOAAAA. (Hang on, this wasn't mentioned in the book contract!)

Ad man Robin Wight and his wife, lighting up the Green Room

And here's the other thing: festival organisers don't want their writers/illustrators/musicians/poets/actors/translators/etc to come to the festival and hide their talents (as is natural to most Brits), they want them to be BIG! FASCINATING! FAMOUS! ...or at least, as much of these things as they can possibly muster.

It's a bit like school visits, when kids ask me, 'Are you famous?' The first couple times they posed the question, I flapped my hands about and said, 'Oh no, not very, not at all, really...' and the kids' faces fell; they lost a bit of interest in me. That's when I realised it was MY JOB to be famous, at least to those kids, right then. Make their eyes go big. Doing any less than that was letting them down.

Photo by Clara Molden for The Telegraph. See more Telegraph Hay photos here.

Being Famous has nothing to do with how many people have actually heard of us... NO, NO. It's about letting go of the fear of looking stupid in front of people - realising we just WILL look stupid, it's inevitable - and then mucking about as flamboyantly as possible and trying let as many people as possible take part in the fun. Some people don't need to be over-the-top, they can sit on a dark stage in a single spotlight and look wise, and wear intellectual/slimming black clothes, and spout bons mots. But it's not an easy way to entertain 500 children for an hour, particularly if they're mostly five-year-olds.

Ha ha, welcome to the world of being children's authors at literary festivals. One great way to break the ice when we walk into the Green Room is to grab as many people as we vaguely recognise and take as many stupid photos as possible. The fabulous Holly Smale and Philip Ardagh are always up for this, which is one of the reasons I love them!

...Actually, once Ardagh gets started, you can't get him OUT of the photos.

Hey, look, writer Steve Cole also brought a ukulele! Ukes were all the rage this year.

I have a confession to make: I was scared spitless about the ukulele song I was planning to perform for my There's a Shark in the Bath event. Philip Reeve and John Dougherty had written it for me (the second song I've ever learned) and I'd figured out how to play it, but the last time I'd tried, the song had TOTALLY BOMBED. It was at a huge school assembly in Spain, the Spanish kids had very mixed English language abilities, the room was boomingly cavernous and I couldn't even hear the strings or my own voice. I was out of key, the kids weren't following along, I was trying to make up for the agony by adding more enthusiasm and realising I was just looking like an Incredibly Sad Person. I wanted the floor to open up and swallow me, and had chills thinking about it for weeks. I did NOT want to do that at Hay.

But I still had this song. A good song. Maybe slightly too gloomy-sounding; I put the chorus into a major key to make it more bouncy. I kept forgetting which version I was playing.

Playing a song at home is very different than trying to get a crowd of people to follow along. And I wasn't confident enough in my own voice or playing just to perform the song, I wanted it to be a way the audience could get involved. I wrote a frightened-sounding post on Facebook about it. Then I deleted it, thinking, all these other seasoned authors are going to think I'm SO unprofessional!

But when I arrived in the Green Room, Holly Smale (author of best-selling Geek Girl) and David Sanger, my Scholastic publicist, were there, and they both said they were game to help me out. Being on a stage with two friendly people is SO much easier than doing it alone.

During the song at the end of the event, Holly and David sang along, led the kids in stomping and shouting, and were totally awesome. It was a wonderful moment of book world solidarity. I was almost tearfully grateful. And just knowing they'd be there to help, and seeing their friendly faces in the audience for the first three-quarters of the event gave me so much more confidence.

I taught everyone - kids and adults - how to draw a silly shark, and a kid named Matthew volunteered his name to give to the shark. Here's Matthew with his little brother at the signing following the event. I'd never met his mum before, but she e-mailed afterward, finishing with: Matthew said it was the best ever that he had seen at Hay - So thank you.

I was so absorbed in signing people's shark books and looking at their drawings that I let a bunch of adult people standing behind me give me a thorough briefing on some radio interview they wanted me to do, and I happily agreed, and didn't listen to a word they said. So I turned up, vaguely thinking I was going to be in a little cupboard with one other local radio person, answering questions for five minutes. And it wasn't that at all! It was a whole other BBC event, with an audience, the National Poet of Wales Gillian Clarke, comedian Marcus Brigstocke, painter Shani Rhys James, presenter Nicola Heywood Thomas and two excellent musicians from a group called The People The Poet. Also, we started off talking about Maya Angelou, and I had no idea what to say, other than things everyone says about her. And my memory stirred to something I'd heard on Hay radio earlier in the week, where writer-illustrator Lauren Child was being asked about Belgian gun crime, or something like that. Eek!

But the radio show went fine; I got to meet the other people, who all turned out to be fascinating, look at their books, hear their music and just talk a bit about how I like to get kids drawing. (Which is something I know about, big relief.)

Shani, Gillian, Sarah, inflatable shark, Nicola, The People The Poet, Marcus

If you like, you can listen again for a month to a podcast of the show over on the BBC Radio Wales website.

Thanks for hosting, Nicola!

My second event (or second I'd known about in advance) was The Big Draw with my Oliver and the Seawigs co-author Philip Reeve, Horrible Histories illustrator Martin Brown, hosted by the excellent Paul Blezard. We'd done the event two years earlier, and had gotten such a buzz from it that we were keen to do it again. But we only wanted to do it if we could have Paul hosting, because he has a tremendous way of whipping up the audience while Philip, Martin and I have our backs to the audience, drawing.

And draw, we did! The audience of over 700 people helped us come up with six funny animal characters, then we turned out attentions to the big strip of paper across the stage and had them advise us on making a GIANT COMIC STRIP. It was nuts, we were all finishing each other's drawings, colouring in, adding speech bubbles to each other's cartoons...

The end-of-event deadline drew closer... would we finish?!

And, drawing on stage, we were battling to balance our own usual senses of getting lost in drawing (being in 'the zone') with trying to listen out for what the audience would want to happen next. It's quite tricky!

And in the end... we DID IT! WAHEY!

Photo by Sarah Reeve

Ha ha, if any of you don't like the way the comic turned out, you can BLAME THE AUDIENCE. It was their ideas. But I think we all had lots of fun.

We only had 30 minutes after that event before going on stage again, Martin to his event, and Philip and I to present Oliver and the Seawigs. Quick costume change! These photos by steward Trish Thomas make me laugh, it looks like Philip and I are having a massive on-stage row.

And we are, in fact, STILL TALKING TO EACH OTHER. The audience were great, and after everyone had drawn their own Sea Monkey, Sam Reeve, Philip's son, even came on stage and help us lead everyone in singing the Sea Monkey sea shanty. Thanks, Sam!

Photo on left by Gemma Cooper, on right by Trish Thomas

Then we signed books and signed, and signed. (Our little drawings make the signings take a bit longer.)

Photo by Sarah Reeve

We signed so much, that I had to run off to catch my train and didn't get to say hello to half of the people I wanted to talk with. That was rather agonising.

But I DID get to see a couple events on my first day. I'll post a few more photos to give a better idea of the overall festival. The first event I got to go to was Jasper Fforde's, introducing the third Dragonslayer book in the series he plans to make a quartet. I absolutely love his Thursday Next books, which start with The Eyre Affair. He actually has a very similar sense of humour to Philip Reeve; if you enjoyed reading Philip's Larklight trilogy and Goblins trilogy, you'll love Jasper's work, too.

I bought the first book in the series, The Last Dragonslayer. One of the joys of festivals is that you don't only get to listen to an author speak, but you get to meet them afterward and spend a minute or two making an absolute idiot of yourself in front of them as you try to pack in everything you want to tell them, forget it all completely, and satisfy yourself with an inane selfie. Hooray!

The other event I got to attend was Toni Morrison, talking with Jerry Brotton about Desdemona, her adaptation of Shakespeare's Othello. I'm originally from the USA, and Toni Morrison was always a huge figure in our culture, and I remember reading Beloved when I was about 15 and feeling quite shocked by it. As I came in, I scanned the huge auditorium to see if there were any seats left, close enough for a decent view. Aha! ONE seat left, in the second row! I wriggled my way into it and got ready to be amazed. But from the seats behind me blew PUFFS of indignant air. Of ALL PEOPLE to sit in front of us!... SO INCONSIDERATE. THAT HAIR. And you'd think getting here early would give us an advantage. HARRUMPHHH. I looked around and two peeved-looking middle-aged women behind me were looking daggers at my bunches and fascinator. (My smallest fascinator, I have to say. But still.)

The lights began to dim. I couldn't get out without making the whole row stand up. I couldn't unclip the fascinator without a mirror and it would've been super-awkward attempting to strip off my hair extensions on the spot. I hunkered down as low in my seat as I could, my knees pressed painfully against the metal seat in front of me.

Toni began to speak her words of wisdom, but those women behind me were still blowing their outraged puffs of air. Wow, British middle-class women have SUCH a way of making a person feel totally unwelcome without actually telling that person to B***** OFF. I could feel their eyes boring into me. I tried to hunker down lower and listen. I couldn't see anything through the head in front of me. My back started to throb, then send stabs of pain through me. The women huffed. I stayed down.

It was okay. Toni's great, but it was really hard to concentrate. I was freaked out about my upcoming ukulele song. I felt a tragic sense of loss, that I was right there in front of this great woman and missing so, so much of everything she was saying because I was self-absorbed, distracted, insecure... She talked about removing Iago from the story as a main character, because he takes over and never gives Othello the chance to have a good monologue. I thought about removing the two women behind me so I could sit up and have a good listen. She talked about Goodness, and the difficulty in portraying interesting good characters, and how it's something she's exploring - perhaps most in wise, older women - and as she was saying this, a jangly ring-tone went off right behind me. One of those WISE OLDER WOMEN behind me frantically dived into her handbag and switched it off. ...Oops, and there it went AGAIN! I tried not to guffaw. It wasn't hard, because I wasn't sure if I'd ever be able to stand up again, and at last, I staggered out of the theatre to go do my Shark event, wishing I'd sat right at the back.

So that was what will probably be my one-and-only encounter with the living legend that is Toni Morrison. Later I was talking to Paul Blezard, who was pondering the significance of being the person who's job it was to let Toni know that Maya Angelou had just died. Two Grande Dames of American literature. He'd met Maya years earlier, and had one very good interview with her, and he and Toni were able to talk about Maya, as someone they'd both known; he a little bit, and her, very well. I think, by conveying the news, he felt a bit in awe to be a tiny part of their history together. I rubbed my back and reflected on how we get to be a part of a few things in life, but we never know which encounters will really be the special ones. Toni and me, it wasn't to be.

Ah, well. Back to my world of fruitcake children's authors and drawing and stuff. And eating. Here's my dinner date, Sam, drawing Monster Consequences with me and doing a Comics Jam (with a small contribution across the table from The Telegraph's Martin Chilton.).

Ah and there's Steve Cole again! He's taking over from Charlie Higson to write the next Young Bond book.

Photo by Jay Williams for The Telegraph

Charlie was wearing a rather fine tweedy cap.

I'd met Welsh writer Fflur Dafydd a few months ago on my last visit to Hay, doing school visits. She's one of the many, many people I wanted to spend all afternoon chatting with, and sadly it never happened.

But I did get to have breakfast with comics creator Karen Rubins, who was staying in the same house as I was, and running seven comics workshops for The Phoenix Comic. (Do subscribe, The Phoenix is a wonderful weekly comic!) And I had dinner at the River Cafe with lovely Norwegians Helga and John Rullestad, who are a big part of running the SILK book festival in the town of Skudeneshavn, which I'd visited with a Hay group in February. (Norwegian blog post here.) Stuart and I are going back for their festival in November and really looking forward to it. I'll be doing one of my events there with Rosie Goldsmith (another person at Hay I didn't manage to catch up with properly). Thanks for a great evening, John and Helga!

And a big thanks to the whole team who made Hay happen! Here's writer-illustrator Steve Anthony (whom I met for the first time) with children's programmer Mary Byrne.

Photo tweeted by Steve Antony

Mary and Heather Salisbury have been working their absolute hardest to get all the logistics right, and we were amazed at how smoothly everything went. A big thanks to Penny and the team in the kitchen, drivers Darren and Les, all our event stewards and helpers, and of course to my publicists who were always there to help: Keo Baxendine from Oxford University Press and David Sanger from Scholastic. And a special thanks to Jean Moseley, who let Karen Rubins and I stay right in her house - she doesn't normally run a B&B - and who looked after us so well.

Hay Festival's still going on, and you can follow updates on the Twitter hashtag #HayFestival, follow them at @HayFestival, Director @PeterFlorence, Children's Programmer Mary Byrne at @marysbookstuff and get news from @BBCRadioWales, @TelegraphBooks, journalist @MartinChilton and photographer @ClaraMolden.

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8. ELCAF Previews Night: Kristyna Baczynski’s ‘A Measure of Space’

Astounding designer and comic-maker Kristyna Baczynski will be at ELCAF, debuting what look to be a number of new pieces. One will be her zine ‘Intrepid’ which she says mixes a short existential story with “jungle girl drawings”. Which, now there’s a combination nobody could refuse, right?

She’ll also be launching a new comic called ‘A Measure of Space’, which she announced a few days ago on Twitter. Here’s a look at the cover, as well as one of the risograph spreads within the book. Want to see more? See her at ELCAF!

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Not heading to ELCAF? Then you can keep up with her work here instead!

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9. ELCAF Previews Night: Ricky Rouse Has A Gun

Launching early for ELCAF (the full release isn’t slated until September), Jörg Tittel and John Aggs’ book ‘Ricky Rouse Has A Gun’ will be on offer at the SelfMadeHero booth. Possibly the most likely comic ever to get sued by Disney, the book takes aim at a certain familiar rodent, and the rest of his crew.

Billed as being a satirical action-comedy, the book is a manic take on US-China relations, as US army deserter Rick Rouse finds himself in China, where the only job he can get is on a knockoff Disney theme park. But when terrorists land in the grounds, he’s the only one who can save the day – only, he’s probably not allowed to take off that costume, because that’d break canon.

micky mouse cover.2bb rr2 rr3

John Aggs will be on hand himself to sign copies of the book – and like I say, this is an early chance to get your hands on a book that nobody else will get to touch until September!

If you’re not at ELCAF? You can keep an eye on the book right here!

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10. ELCAF Preview Night: Dan Berry’s ‘The End’

ELCAF is tomorrow, and all sorts of wonderous and startling comics and arts are going to be going on all day. Remember the Kokiri Forest from Ocarina of Time? It’s essentially going to be like that, only with more pixies floating through the sky at any given moment. It’s a magical sort of festival, and there’s more things going on than you could justifiably shake a deku stick at.

So to help you keep track of all the books you’ll be pining for across the rest of 2014, tonight I’ll be looking at some of the many projects that are launching or will be available to you. Previews Night!

Dan Berry will be launching a new book at the festival, called ‘The End’. With just 100 copies available tomorrow, each issue is embossed with a gold numbering, and should sell fairly quick, I’d imagine. The premise of the book is that one morning, people wake up to find that the number ’14′ has been daubed across walls all around the UK. Assuming it’s a viral marketing gimmick or something, they don’t pay too much attention – until the next day, when the number has been replaced with a ’13′. And so as the days go by, the numbers start ticking down.

Something supernatural is going on! Zounds, alors! Berry; best known for books like ‘The Suitcase’, ‘Carry Me’, and ‘Cat Island’; will be on hand to explain more.

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If you’re not at ELCAF? You can keep up with Dan Berry’s comics here!

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11. sniffing the print at ELCAF 2014

For the past couple years I've been trying to get over to the East London Comics & Arts Festival, organised by young and beautiful Nobrow Press, and always had some reason I couldn't go. But this year I headed up to Hoxton station and walked along Hackey Road to see what all the fuss was about.

I hadn't been up to Hackney Road for ages, and there was lots on which to feast my eyeballs.

Check out this cloud-blue house, just past Hackney City Farm. And then I finally reached the ramshackle little factory area where the fair was happening, and at 10:15am, there was already a queue to get in. I'm very glad I was early, as I saw complaints on Twitter from people who arrived after 1pm or so, when the festival was running a one-in-one-out policy. Steve May said he couldn't get in at all, although Steve Antony said he arrived half an hour before closing and managed to get in and do a fast sweep of the place. Whatever the case, the venue started out comfortably full, but by lunchtime was HEAVING.

I made a beeline for the table of one of my all-time favourite self-publishing heroes, Philippa Rice. And she had a new comic out! I bought one for me, and my sister. You can read my interview of Philippa about We're Out here. Philippa has such a great playful way of making comics, both with drawing and with collage, and I love her gentle humour and beautiful colour palettes. Her work's almost the exact opposite aesthetic to the Comics Unmasked exhibition I visited earlier at the British Library, and I think hers is just as subversive, in its own way. A couple weeks ago, I read an interesting Spiked article, surmising that some people

'...think that unhappy and twisted stuff is correspondingly profound, while comedy is trivial and facile. The truth is often the other way round, where horror and gore are really just sentimentality, prurient and moralistic at the same time, while comedy allows marvellous slippages of meaning that are much more intelligent.'

EXACTLY. And the humourous alternative doesn't have to be The Beano, either. (People always seem to mention The Beano, and there's so much more out there.) Philippa's comics are one of my first ports of call.

And one of my other ports is Isabel Greenberg's table! I love her Encyclopedia of Early Earth so much; it completely taps into the woodcut-printmaking, limited colour palette aesthetic I appreciate, and I like the way she sets up a story as some epic legend and then humanises it with little anachronistic bits of dialogue and humour.

I haven't been keeping very good tabs on people on the Internet, and I thought her latest mini, Rites, Customs and Histories of the Great Empire of Migdal Bavel was a comic, but it's more of a historical guide with text and pictures. It looks beautiful all the same, and I snapped one up. And then my eye was caught by the colourful Magic Capes display next to hers, and I ended up buying a copy of this gorgeous double-sided accordian print, The Firebird, by Lesley Barnes. I'd never heard of Lesley, but check out her website, she's amazing. She also picks up on a lot of folkloric imagery. Lesley was exhibiting with Tereza Rowe, who has a lovely young-readers comic out with Candlewick Press, Hearts.

Check out one side of The Firebird, so lovely! I really need a fireplace mantle to display this properly.

Oh man, I'm totally going to get lost in her website. Goodbye, world. She's @lesleybarnes on Twitter.

I Didn't See it Coming from Lesley Barnes on Vimeo.

And of course Felt Mistress and Jontofski! (Or Louise Evans and Jonathan Edwards, if you prefer.) I'm endlessly inspired by the different ways Jonathan pushes himself with experiments in drawing and painting, and I love the way he and Louise collaborate on amazing costumed monsters, tapping into her expert tailoring skills. (You can see my blog post from their Creature Couture launch earlier on my blog.) Here's a peek into their new booklet, The Hiber-Nation, and if I ever cosplay someone else's character at a comics convention, it's going to be this one, Myfi Snark. Check out her amazing blue-and-yellow Welsh tweed ensemble!

My studio mate Gary Northfield was gutted he couldn't come along, because he's a huge fan of French comics artist Anouk Ricard, and her Anna & Frogo books. So I got a text begging me to pick up a signed copy of her new adult book, Benson's Cuckoos (which I did). Here's her Drawn & Quarterly website (in English), and her own blog (in French).

Anouk comes across as quite shy, but the interviewer and translator did a wonderful job. (I'm sorry, I didn't catch their names. Can anyone help me here?) Anouk used to draw with pencils and pens, but she's recently gone to working purely digitally, with a Cintiq screen. She much prefers it to the Wacom pad, where she could never quite get the hang of not seeing her hand drawing. And she has much more fun drawing animals in human situations than people; she said she finds people boring. 'You can draw animals in so many different shapes, and use such different colours.' Right now she's adapting a Guy de Maupassant story Une vie, because she wanted to try drawing costumes from an earlier era, but still using animal characters.

It was great to see Greek creator of picture books, comics, screen prints, graphics and lots more besides, Katherina Manolessou. She's one of the first people I ever discovered in small press books, perhaps ten years ago, at the London Artists Book Fair. You can read my blog about her Zoom Zoom Zoom launch here.

And Viviane Schwarz! I got a copy of her Rabbit Stew in its first printing, when we shared a room for Thought Bubble festival in Leeds. But I want more for prezzies; it's a brilliant, twisted story about a family trying to relate to and encourage their daughter while being a bit freaked out by her. Here she is with my fab friend co-author David O'Connell. (Our picture book Jampires launches this September.)

I was so glad to see that ELCAF had planned family activities. (A lot of comics festivals have failed in this area, although they're gradually improving. David O'Connell and I are going to be a big part of the family activity area this year at Thought Bubble.) I loved the way Alexis Deacon set out this mural workshop: he's already made sea-life shapes on a the paper in one colour, and kids went in and decorated them. In the other activity area, families sat around two big tables full of toy parts, which they could assemble into their own weird and wonderful new toys, a bit like that neighbour kid in Toy Story 2. The kids were really getting into it.

Fab to see some beautiful experimental comics by Andy Poyiadgi, and a wearable book jacket by Otto Graphic.

I've had a big poster hanging on my studio wall by Swedish artist Matthias Adolfsson, so it was great to see him drawing at ELCAF. To say Matthias's work is incredibly detailed is an understatement; go check out his website. And here's The Book Sniffer blogger Emma O'Donovan with her Matthias loot, and David O'C smashed in between us, heh heh. (That's Matthias in the stripey shirt.)

Lovely comics and dance moves from Kristyna Baczynski and Dan Berry! If you haven't heard of Dan's Make It Then Tell Everybody podcasts, go check them out, they make for great listening. Dan's also organising the 24 Hour Comics Marathon I'm taking part in this October for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival in Kendal. Dan said that all seven of us who are doing the 24 Hours were their in the room, but I didn't manage to spot Fumio Obata... boo!

No comics fair is complete without these guys: Joe Decie, Adam Cadwell, Warwick Johnnson Cadwell.

I'm a huge fan of Joe's work. Here's my review of The Listening Agent:

I love this book. Joe Decie has such a wonderful way of noticing small things about daily life, creatiing a witty commentary about them and then taking the situations one step further into the surreal. I keep having to buy new copies of this book because I keep giving it away to friends. When people tell me they don't read comics, understand comics, or think they're all about superheroes in tights, I urge them to read this; the way it deals with the ordinary makes the little stories in it completely extraordinary. I'd also recommend Decie's earlier book, 'The Accidental Salad'. In both, you get to see him being a bemused dad, dealing with his own foibles and gently pushing back against things in society that irk him. Decie uses beautiful ink linework and the subtle ink wash tones give the book a wonderfully human feel.

Warwick keeps some of my very favourite sketchbooks, I follow him on Twitter, Instagram, around comics fairs, etc. Ha ha, the first time I met him, I was running a table at a Birmingham comics fair and was so excited that I shut down my table for an hour and took him out for coffee. (It was my first con and I learned later that you're not really supposed to do that.) I bought another copy of Dangeritis, his collaborative comic with Robert Ball, which is full-on fights, car chase scenes, stupid moustached silliness, and drawn with jaw-dropping skill. (I nicked Adam's Instagram of Robert since I forgot to take a photo on the day.)

And not to forget Adam Cadwell, who is a brilliant artist in his own right and has started up Great Beast Comics with his friend Marc Ellerby; they're publishing some really exciting stuff. 'Like what?', you might ask. Well, besides Dangeritis, Great Beast have just come out with Rachael Smith's House Party, which raised crazy-big levels of money with Kickstarter crowdfunding. Congrats, people! Here's Rachael, with Dan Cox (Hitsville UK with Great Beast) on the left and John Cei Douglas (Show me the Map to Your Heart

with Great Beast) on the right.

And some of my favourite people were manning the Blank Slate table: Darryl Cunningham, Martin Steenton (his last day at Blank Slate!), Bridget Hannigan and Woodrow Phoenix.

Woodrow has his giant book on display at the British Library and you can view all the pages with him on June 17 at 6pm, July 22 at 6pm and August 12 at 3pm.

SHE LIVES - a fast preview of a very big book by Woodrow Phoenix from superadaptoid on Vimeo.

Oo, it's John Aggs! John's partner Nana Li cut off his long, thick hair, and I'm still doing big double-takes every time I see him. He has a new book out, full of guns and furries, and it really isn't my thing, but gosh, can the guy draw.

Oh, and who's that guy to the left of John? It's Mark Stafford, and check out the notebook sketches he was making on the day. And seated with him, two more super-talented dudes: Ed Hillyer/Ilya and Rob Davis. (In my children's book world, you probably know Rob for his Horrible Histories work, but don't miss his AMAZING Don Quixote books, and I'm super-excited about his upcoming The Motherless Oven.

Gareth Brookes (sans beard) and Hannah Berry (also without beard). The ELCAF percentage of beards in the crowd was unusually high.

I promised I wouldn't post the photo of Andy Poyiadgi when I accidentally made him knock over his neighbour's table display.

And great to see Barnaby Richards with Tor Freeman and Alice Lickens. Barnaby has a book coming out with Blank Slate, I think this autumn, which is exciting.

I wasn't able to stay all day, so I missed talks by Seth and Chris Ware. But I'd seen Chris give a Comica Festival talk before, and I don't know either of them, so I was more gutted to miss the post-festival drinks with people. Ah, well. All in all, a brilliant festival, and beautifully curated for a certain aesthetic which I really admire. I'd love to see the festival get a larger venue, so no one would have to be turned away. But I recommend if you go next year, be sure to get there early. And you can check out Nobrow's lovely shop on Great Eastern Street in East London, a great place for a good browse.

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12. Being Sick and Sketching in the Park (Luckily, not Simultaneously)

So far this weekend, John and I have mostly been in bed. No, I know what you are thinking... nothing saucy (far from it). On Thursday night, during the private view of The Great Sheffield Art Show, I suddenly had to rush to the loo to be violently sick. Not, I hasten to add, an effect of the artwork, but of a very nasty tummy virus. I had my head in the loo once an hour, all night long. Lovely. John wasn't actually sick, but felt awful (at least that's what he said... or was he malingering?). Anyway, we both slept all of Friday and still felt decidedly delicate yesterday. 

Thank goodness it was this weekend though, and I was fit and well last weekend, as that was the weekend of my Broomhill Festival eventFor the last three years, the festival have asked me to run a SketchCrawl in the Botanical Gardens. 

Often the people who come are less experienced sketchers than at the Urban Sketchers Yorkshire SketchCrawls I run each month and my role is more to offer help and inspiration than to actually sketch. In previous years, we have had a fairly modest turn-out though, so I have done quite a bit of drawing too. This year, we had a lovely big group, so I only grabbed 10 minutes at the end to do the quickie above.

It was glorious weather and a really lovely group of people, so we all had a good time. They worked really hard too and several of them have now signed up for my regular SketchCrawls, because they want to try it again - result!

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13. 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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14. london YA lit con 2014

Hatted up, suited and booted: just another day heading into the office...

Ha ha! It's so much fun when other people dress up, not just me. Yesterday I went to YA Lit Con (that's Young Adult Literature Convention, or #YALC), held as part of the London Film and Comic Con at Earl's Court in London. On the pavement outside, this lady in her fine threads won my heart... until she shot an arrow straight through it. Aiee!

Seriously, where else do you get this many unaccompanied kids and teenagers together in one place - many with MASSIVE WEAPONS - and have such a well-behaved, literate group of people? These people LOVE stories, and they often don't just want to read them, but become actual characters in these new myths and legends. I love this so much. Here's Martin Chilton's coverage of YALC in The Telegraph:

When I got to the Green Room, I went a little crazy with taking selfies with lots of people there. Steve Cole was super-chuffed to get his photo taken with one of the Doctor Who characters, Paul McGann. (Steve had written BBC books starring Paul's Doctor from '97-'99.) To be honest, I had a bit of a crush on him in the film Withnail and I; there's even two pages in Morris the Mankiest Monster based on screen shots I took of that film.

Hey look, Mark Gatiss! Editor of Oliver and the Seawigs and Cakes in Space Clare Whitston REALLY wanted a photo with him. Wahey! I think he does a great job playing Sherlock Holmes's brother Mycroft in the BBC's Sherlock. Ooh, and writer Catherine Johnson got in for a shot!

Oo, and Clare quite fancied a shot with Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Anthony Head. And writer Bryony Pearce!

Then I got SOUNDLY TOLD OFF by one of the red-t-shirted YALC staff, saying that the Green Room is a place of refuge from fans and I was NOT to be taking any more photos. Which was actually pretty gutsy, as she was quite young, and it's not easy to tell people off like that. Respect.

But I did snap a few more very quiet Green Room photos of friendly faces, including YA Lit Con founder and Children's Laureate Malorie Blackman, fellow comics panelist Emma Vieceli, writer Catherine Johnson and writer Charlie Higson.

Malorie's been such a great laureate; this YA Lit Con was her idea, to get books and their authors right in there where so many kids gather for comics, film and dressing up. Then Katherine Woodfine and Booktrust set the gears in motion and put in a LOT of hard work to make it happen. You can read more about it in this piece Malorie wrote for The Guardian:

YALC really was two worlds colliding for me: usually I have my book world friends and my comics friend, and rarely do the two meet. If you look at book festival line-ups, you'd think UK children's book authors are quite evenly divided male-female, but if you go to children's book social events, I usually see a lot more women. Whereas, until recently, I'd go to comics gatherings and sometimes be the only woman in the room. This is all changing and it's great to see the different crowds mixing and merging. The place it really started for me was with the DFC weekly magazine, which is now The Phoenix Comic, and it brought out of the comics woodwork people who can write for children (and many who because solid friends).

I wouldn't label myself as a 'YA writer', but people of all ages have given me great feedback on my Vern and Lettuce comic, and I hate to think Oliver and the Seawigs wouldn't appeal to teens and adults. But as YA isn't specifically 'my thing' (What even is YA?), I chaired a panel, rather than spoke on it. Here's our Going Graphic event with Marcus Sedgwick, Emma Vieceli and Ian Edginton, where we discussed adapting comics from pre-existing text-only books. I think the event went well, despite it being very noisy in the big hall; we had a great turnout and several people live-tweeted it. At dinner that evening, Emma wanted to clarify that what she had said about writing and drawing; she meant that it's easier to get work if you can produce images, not just a script, but that that actual drawing part is WAY harder and more time-consuming than the writing. But I thought it was quite funny when she talked about how she'll sometimes have internal arguments between herself as the writer and as the artist; one side of her can get quite annoyed with the other. You can follow the three of them on Twitter: @marcussedgwick, @Emmavieceli, @IanEdginton. Ian's adapting Malorie Blackman's Noughts & Crosses, with artwork by the amazing John Aggs, and I'm with loads of people who are looking forward to that.

Emma and I did our signings next to each other and it was fun seeing some great costumes parade by. Emma has some MEGA fans for her Vampire Academy series, and she was able to provide a printed prologue for her ongoing BREAKS web comic.

One of the coolest things that happened all day was something I don't usually get to see at book festivals; three black boys, aged somewhere between 10 an 13, hung around for awhile watching me draw and sign in books. Two of them spent time looking through the books and bought themselves copies, and one of them asked me how I went about getting published. I was able to introduce him right there to my Oxford University Press editor, Clare Whitston, and he grilled Clare, quite professionally, about what he needed to do. He's written about aliens, and I suspect this kid could go places. Special kudos to their librarian, whom they said told them about the event, and may have even brought them and let them go off on their own to explore.

Sadly, I didn't get photos of them (and wouldn't have had adult permission to post them), but I DID get a great photo of writer Andy Robb's kid. His whole family came by for copies of Oliver and the Seawigs, and I tweeted this photo. Then Andy tweeted back:

Hooray! This is what YA Lit Con's all about, I really hope loads of kids went away inspired from having seen book creators are real-life people, and realised that they could also write/draw/film/animate their own stories. Ah, here's Andy and gang... with a reviewer who's name I can't remember(?), writer Sally Nicholls, and blogger/writer Laura Heath (aka Sister Spooky, in the hat).

I went to see Natasha Ngan on her panel about blogging, but I got there a bit late and couldn't get close enough to hear anything. I was quite curious to hear about Natasha's fashion blog, Girl in the Lens, from which she earns more of an income than from her books. She works with her partner, Callum McBeth to come up with high-quality photo shoots, and I think the lovely visuals, along with her specific taste, are a big part of the secret to their success. Natasha's publishers had sent along 100 early editions of her new book The Memory Keepers, and they were snatched up so quickly that I didn't even manage to get one.

I don't watch Game of Thrones, but it had a BIG presence at the wider London Film & Comic Con. And of course everyone wanted to sit in the throne, including Mitch Benn, (whom I met for the first time in the Green Room). We nipped over with Emma to the second hall to see the comics area, and Mitch had fun ogling the two Batmobiles. (Thrones photo lifted off Mitch's Twitter feed.)

Here's a trailer for Mitch's book Terra. It looks like it has some links to my upcoming Cakes in Space book with Philip Reeve (both about girls have wacky space adventures), so perhaps I'll see him again at a future space-related event or something.

Lovely book world people! I think they were amused at how normal I looked there in full costume. Photo by Karen Ball of (eek, help me with the name!), me, Sally Nicholls and Jo Cotterill (who's very active on the Girls Heart Books blog).

In fact, there were a LOT of girls there who heart books.

My favourite costumes are always the home-made, self-designed ones. Some of them were well suited to the hot, HOT hall, but... POOR CHEWIE! I really felt for whoever was in there; I think the heat kept the St John's Amubulance service fairly busy.

At the end, all the YALC writers, illustrators and publishers gathered for a party hosted by Booktrust. Here's Claire Shanahan passing out YALC-themed mini cupcakes, baked by Bluebell Kitchen. And a group photo, where Patrick Ness and the rest of us tall folk are hiding at the back.

YALC's still running today, and I'm sure lots of people will reflect on what a great weekend it's been. Huge congratulations to Malorie Blackman, Katherine Woodfine, the whole team at Booktrust, London Film & Comic Con for bringing in such an excellent partner convention, and to my fellow comics panelists. Thanks for making it a great day!

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15. Animation Block Party Returns To Brooklyn For Its 10th Year

This summer, Brooklyn’s Animation Block Party will celebrate its tenth anniversary with its biggest slate of programmming ever.

The festival, which will take place between July 25-28, has announced its full programming line-up and film competition selections on AnimationBlock.com. The competition slate includes over 100 short films spread across four programs of animated shorts, two programs of international animated shorts and one program of children’s animation. In addition to the new animated films, the festival will be presenting archival screenings of silent animated films, 1960s Oscar-winning shorts, and the features The Secret of NIMH and Beavis & Butt-Head Do America.

The Animation Block 2013 jury consists of Jerry Beck, Devin Clark, Carrie Miller, and Scout Raskin, and the following festival awards will be presented: Student Film, Best in Show, Audience Award, Narrative Short, Computer Animation, Minute Movie, Original Design, Music Video, Experimental Animation and Animation for Kids.

The opening night on Friday, July 26th, will be presented in association with Rooftop Films at Greenpoint High School (50 Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg, NY 11222) and will include live music and an after-party. Individual screening tickets and full festival passes can be pre-ordered on AnimationBlock.com.

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16. Annecy Film Festival Review by Bill Plympton

Bill Plympton with Chris Landreth

BILL PLYMPTON is the Oscar-nominated filmmaker of seven animated features and more than thirty animated shorts. His new feature Cheatin’ will premiere this fall. Learn more about his work at Plymptoons.com.

I went to Annecy with mixed emotions this year—after all, it was a year of major changes.

The iconic Bonlieu Centre, where all the action usually takes place, was being torn down to be replaced by a larger and hopefully more beautiful structure. Some say the new theater complex will be finished next year and some say in two years—who knows, with French construction workers.

The other new kink was the fact that celebrated artistic director Serge Bromberg was leaving after fifteen wonderful years, to be replaced by Marcel Jean. So, naturally, I felt that this would be a transitional year.

My wife Sandrine and I arrived just in time to go to the opening night event, taking place in the freshly-constructed hybrid tent cinema. The opening film was the long anticipated Pixar sequel Monsters University, directed by Dan Scanlon, along with the new Pixar short Blue Umbrella. The latter six-minute short by Saschka Unseld had a very different look from all of the former Pixar shorts, a lot more realistic, and the love story involving two colored umbrellas in a rainstorm has certain similarities to last year’s Oscar winner, Paperman.

Monsters University was a bit disappointing—for me there were too many extraneous characters to get emotionally involved, and the colors, especially the backgrounds on the campus grounds, were too neon-bright, which made it hard to enjoy the beautiful design and follow the characters.

The next morning I had a panel about crowdfunding and Kickstarter. Like a similar panel I hosted at Stuttgart, it was a packed house. After years of sucking off the government teat, the Europeans are mad for a more democratic, and perhaps hassle-free, way for raising money to make films.

Bill Plympton with his son Lucas Plympton

Tuesday afternoon was the Competition Shorts creening #2, and my film Drunker Than a Skunk was in that group, so Sandrine and I needed to attend to present the film. The program started off promisingly enough—meaning that the films were not that good and hence the audience would love our film. All the early films in the program were abstract or avant-garde, therefore not crowd-pleasers. Then came Remi Vandenitte’s Betty’s Blues, a wonderful ode to Southern blues music that had a terrific style. Then Drunker came on and we received a very nice reaction. We felt we were looking good for Awards Night.

But, later in the program, came Chris Landreth’s unmemorably named Subconscious Password, a totally delightful and bold CG film starring Chris and the enigmatic John Dilworth. Then and there, I knew our awards chances flew out the window. Oh well, once I knew I didn’t have to worry about awards, I could just enjoy the week and relax.

My next event was a work-in-progress screening of my new feature, Cheatin’. There was a really good buzz going about this film, so tickets were hard to get and a lot of people asked me to sneak them in.

I showed some pencil tests and finished scenes, drew some of the character designs and talked about the production. The audience applauded throughout (which I loved) and then I moved to a table just outside the exit, next to a beautiful creek, and gave everyone in line a free sketch, which took about an hour.

For the past seven years, I’ve been presenting the “Annecy Plus” show, first with Pat Smith, and now with Nik and Nancy Phelps. It’s been a smashing success. This year, we were forced to relocate the popular event to the wonderful Café des Arts in Old Town. We promoted the hell out of it, and the weather was perfect so we had high hopes for a big success. Unfortunately, there was no movie screen!

Jonas Raeber, the projectionist and sound man, was able to “borrow” two large sheets from his hotel. Another problem: the door with access to the balcony, where we wanted to hang the sheets, was locked with no key. So, a drunk Indian animator volunteered to leap from an open window across to the balcony—a real Jackie Chan-type moment. I had visions of a terrible accident, and me spending three years in French courts fighting a lawsuit, but the dashing Indian succeeded, and he had free beers all night.

Nik Phelps and his band kicked off the evening with some lively music, and we began the show. Then, the next tragedy struck. Even though Virginia, the proprietor of the bar, had received permission from the city council to hold a late-night screening, there was a rave the night before and it created such a ruckus that her permit was revoked. Thus, we had to turn the sound off at 10p.m., and the problem with that was that it didn’t get dark until 9:30. As a result, the audience only heard one out of the four programs—the last three were silent. Quel dommage.

Bill Plympton with Titmouse’s Chris Prynoski

However, there was enough beer and wine for everyone, and a good time was had by all. The Annecy Plus winning film, by the way, was Super by Johan Klungel. As for the main Annecy awards show, it was a happy affair with nice weather, and Serge showed up to give out the awards with Marcel Jean. The big winner of the evening, and justifiably so, was Subconscious Password by Chris Landreth. He gave a fantastic speech, then we all went to party at the Palais, where I visited with Eric Goldberg, Bill Kroyer, Chris Prynoski of Titmouse Studios, Dominique Puthod (the president of the festival), Chel White, and Michaela Pavlatova, last year’s winner with Tram.

The best news was that everyone was talking about Cheatin’, so chances are good it will be in competition next year in Annecy. See you all there!

Dominique Puthod (Annecy Festival President), his wife Catherine, Bill and
Sandrine Plympton

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17. Ottawa International Animation Festival Selects 106 Films in Competition

North America’s biggest animation festival, the Ottawa International Animation Festival, has announced the feature film and short film selections for their 2013 edition. The festival takes place in Canada’s capital city from September 18-22.

“I was extremely pleased with the wide range of films this year,” said Chris Robinson, artistic director of the OIAF. “Their quality was outstanding, which made the selection process extremely difficult. The Japanese and feature films were particularly refreshing due to their boldness and originality.” The festival selected 106 finalists for competition this year, from a total of 1,924 entries.

Notably, Ottawa has expanded its feature film category this year, with a record eight feature-length films in competition. As I wrote a couple months ago, it is an “exciting time for animated features” and major animation festivals must acknowledge the growth of long-form animation to stay relevant. The feature films in competition at Ottawa this year are:

  • A Liar’s Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman directed by Jeff Simpson, Bill Jones and Ben Timlett (UK)
  • Anima Buenos Aires directed by Maria Ramirez (Argentina)
  • Couleur De Peau: Miel (Approved For Adoption) directed by Laurent Boileau and Jung (France/Belgium)
  • Cycle directed by Zoltan Sostai (Hungary)
  • It’s Such A Beautiful Day directed by Don Hertzfeldt (USA)
  • O Menino e o Mundo (The Boy and The World) directed by Ale Abreu (Brazil)
  • The Pain and The Pity directed by Phil Mulloy (UK)
  • Tito On Ice directed by Max Andersson and Helena Ahonen (Sweden/Germany)

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18. Sketchers-in-Residence at the Sheaf Valley Festival

On Saturday, I met up with some of my SketchCrawl chums, where we had a little stall at the Sheaf Valley Festival

It is an annual festival and is held in a fantastic location: an amphitheatre, right in the centre of Sheffield, cut into the steep hill behind the station, with great views down over the city: 

Just like last year, SketchCrawl North were invited to record the occasion in our sketchbooks and were given the stall for free, to help spread the word about Urban Sketching

We took it in turns to man the stall and, in-between, went out drawing the fun. There was plenty to go at. I especially enjoyed the challenge of sketching the dancers. 

Throughout the afternoon, there were performances by lots of different kinds of dancers - all ages, from quite young children up to adults, and all in fabulous costumes, like these majorettes:

The Son de America were particularly good to sketch, in their long, swirly skirts and I loved that massive sombrero:

But possibly my favourite was the Indian dancing, with it's very particular movements. The saris were glorious. One little girl of about 9 did a long and remarkably confident solo dance. She came over to see my drawing of her afterwards and her mum took a photo.

Our stall made a very handy 'base-camp': a place to chat, chill and eat cake between sketching bouts (we were opposite a way-too-tempting cake stall). There was also a massive stall (about 4 trestle tables, laid out end-to-end) celebrating different kinds of bread, all baked and donated by local people and businesses:

I am amazed, looking back through my sketchbooks from the day, that I managed so many drawings, as I seemed to spend quite a long time chatting. It was a really sociable day - more time than usual to talk to my fellow sketchers, plus and I kept bumping into people I knew.

At 3 o'clock there was a dog show. I remembered it from last year and so was really looking forward to it. There were all kinds of dogs, big and small: some beautiful, some cute, some bouncy, some hairy - almost all rather over-excited by the occasion. They had proper judges from Crufts (!) but it was still absolutely bonkers and really funny:

We were very lucky with the weather. Despite threatening clouds and occasional wild gusts which threatened to blow the stall away, we stayed dry all day and had some bouts of gorgeous sunshine to wallow in. 

The day finished off with live music. I have always had a soft spot for barbershop quartets, so especially enjoyed the Manor Tops. I gathered a crowd of children behind me while I was doing this sketch ('Can you draw me and my friend?' 'You're right good, you' 'How'd you draw that so fast?'):

It was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon: local people, celebrating local talent and showcasing local produce and community groups, all having a good time, hanging out together in the sunshine - exactly what local festivals should be about. SketchCrawl North collected several new recruits over the day too. 

A big thank you to the organisers: a great success. I'm already looking forward to next year!

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19. Dubai: Emirates Lit Fest 2014

I've been to the desert! And taken far too many glam sand photos!

Also, I have met a camel. Did you know their noses are so hairy? When I got an invitation to come out to Dubai for the Emirates Festival of Literature, I talked with writer Philip Ardagh, who'd been in previous years and he said, 'YOU MUST GO, IT IS AMAZING' (or something to that effect). And Geraldine McCaughrean told me such intriguing stories from her visit that I was absolutely bouncing with excitement to see if all myself.

And it WAS amazing. I think the authors of books for adults were slightly surprised just HOW popular the children's events were! The kids there - both Emirati and expat - were falling over themselves to get books, read books, talk about books, write and draw. My Oliver and the Seawigs co-author Philip Reeve went out, too, and we got completely caught up in the excitement.

(Read the rest of the article here.)

I mean, how many times do you get to see writer-illustrator Sally Gardner and journalist Kate Adie riding a camel together?

Or even better, getting off a camel? Watching other people dismount from camels is by far the most funny part of the camel riding experience.

Here's Horrid Henry writer Francesca Simon bonding with her camel.

But that was nothing like the way her theatre director son, Josh Stamp-Simon, bonded with that camel. I have about twenty pictures of Josh and his camel snogging.

I thought at first that the camel and I were getting on beautifully, but she just wanted my drink. *sob* By the way, look how big her head is. Camel heads are HUGE.

I took even MORE photos of performance poet-musician Walter Wray trying to take a selfie with the camels. I don't think anyone else was watching, but he was going at it with such dedication and gusto that it had me quietly bent over with dry-heave laughing. He was like some Hollywood comedy film from the 1930's.

Performance poet Pam Ayres got into the swing of things and before she left, drew a camel on the signature board in the festival Green Room. A camel drawing by Pam Ayres, how cool is that?

Reeve nearly had a fanboy meltdown, he loves Pam Ayres. My one festival mission from him was to get a photo with Pam Ayres. But she insisted he come in, too. We love Pam. Reeve even made a brief return to Twitter for her:

Pam read some very funny poems at the festival Opening Ceremony. Here's one I found on the Internet. I was also hoping to find some Seventies footage of her in her Holly Hobbie dresses, but no luck yet.


On the Opening Night, we had a great performance from local schools, with a song commissioned just for the evening on the theme of 'Metamorphosis', the children all dressed in colourful Middle Eastern garb:

Speaking of Metamorphosis (think butterfly, not Kafka), costume and dressing up played a big part in my week's activities.

In fact, some of the fancy headgear was improvised on the spot:

Reeve joined me in the efforts, note his swanky crystal crown.

Even the volunteers got into the swing of things! Here's a two-pronged Jennifer Martin:

I've always envied the Emirates Airline flight attendants their red pillbox hats, and we did a brief Emirates-Pirates swapsies. (I failed in my mission to acquire a red hat full-time.)

At the desert picnic, everyone got a lovely headscarf. Reeve likes this picture because he thinks with the sunglasses that it makes him look like a Tough Dude. Don't mess with the Reeve.

Actually, I think it looks better on him as a necktie. We took way too many desert selfies. I could post them all here but you'd never read my blog ever again.

Paul Blezard (who once chaired my Giant Comic Jam event with Reeve and Martin Brown at Hay Festival) didn't want anything to do with head gear but sported an excellent skirt instead. (Check out his Saving Grace book crowdfunding project.)

And this couple, Deon Meyer and ____ (oo, can someone help me with her name? I'm trying to remember! She's very nice!) looked amazing in their desert garb. I never saw any Emirati women wearing white, just the men, so I was wondering if they might look at her a bit askance. But she told me that a woman in the lift said that she looked 'very Persian', so that was okay. Knowing which clothes to bring on this trip was a bit challenging, I didn't want to cause any cultural offense. But I never had any problems, everyone was very relaxed about short sleeves and stuff like that.

Just an hour before I left, I found this BRILLIANT shop called Alyashmac, in the Gallery mall connected to the InterContinental Hotel. I had to catch my plane, which was such a shame because there were so many amazing dresses in there. If I ever go back, I'm going to make such a beeline for that place. The shop owner said that the styles aren't the kind that Emirati women wear, but he gets a lot of customers from Egypt and other parts of the Middle East. So swish.

One of the great things about the festival is that it's nearly a week long, so we all get far more time than most festivals to meet the other guests. While I was looking at the programme before I flew out there, one of the people I was most curious to meet was Darcey Bussell, one of Britain's all-time best-loved ballerinas. I was a bit shy about even asking for a photo, but Darcey insisted I sit down on the sofa between her and Lea Sellers, and we went all happy-snappy on the cameras.

Later I watched this video about her, and I was struck by the fact that she had retired at almost exactly the same age that I felt my career was starting as a 'proper job', something I could live on. I look to illustrators such as Shirley Hughes, Judith Kerr and Quentin Blake, who are in their 80s and 90s and still working, and it's strange to think that in ballet, I would be finishing my work and moving on to something else. But one similarity is that Darcey said it took her 14 or 15 years to get into her job, and I think it's taken me about that long, too. I started later than her, I wasn't focused from such a young age on making books.

(Direct YouTube link)

Oh, and the other similarity is that we both had books to talk about! Besides her Magic Ballerina children's books, I saw her signing copies of this lovely coffee table book, Darcey Bussell: a Life in Pictures.

But all this retrospection, it isn't a whole 'life'; Darcey's still going strong, and... ha ha, we're still taking pictures of her. Also, the real-life 8-year-old Dulcie who stars in my There's a Shark in the Bath book (and loves dancing) was extremely jealous I met her hero. I got the tweet from her mum almost as soon as I posted the photo.

Another person I was thrilled to meet was Joanne Harris, writer of Chocolat (inspiring the film of the same name) and very funny Twitter person. (She's @Joannechocolat.)

Also, great food! Sometimes strange food! Like this Ghost Toast with dressing syringe at the Murder Mystery Dinner.

I was a bit nervous about the Murder Mystery Dinner, that we'd all have to act out cheesy roles or something. But it turned out to be great fun, we got to watch the performance, and our table mates turned out to be fascinating: one was a headmaster at a school attended mostly by children of the royal family, another couple frequently rented the house right next to Reeve's house. His alpacas graze in their field. Small world or what? Here's Reeve's sketch of one of the actors. And a picturesque pudding.

In fact, all the meals were so good that when I hit on a single item of food that was rather tasteless and indifferent (one lone, green, savoury jelly), it stood out most strangely. Note Joanne's deeply empathetic expression.

The festival asked me to do a Princess & Pirates event, featuring my picture book with writer Gillian Rogerson, You Can't Scare a Princess!. And quite a few of the kids dressed up! I didn't get many photos from my own stage shows, but here's a picture in the local Al Bayan newspaper.

They had good fun learning how to draw Captain Waffle. (I have lots more fun activity ideas here on my website if anyone went to the event and wants to do more related creative stuff.)

We didn't mention dressing up for my Oliver and the Seawigs event with Philip Reeve, but this girl came as an excellent mermaid. Yay! Look at the great drawings she made during the event:

One of the most exciting things about doing events is when we arrive and the children already know and love the books, and have done activities featuring them. And these kids had! Reeve and I both took walks over to the Gallery exhibition in the shopping mall to see our books featured in children's artwork.

Here are some gorgeous paintings inspired by my book with writer Claire Freedman, Superkid:

And a painted copy of the cover of my newest book, There's a Shark in the Bath! While it's good to come up with new ideas, it's also sometimes very helpful – as an exercise – to copy the work of illustrators you admire, to find out how they did it, and get an overall sense of the colours, composition, and lettering.

I like these new versions of the Oliver and the Seawigs covers, featuring bands of colourful sky.

Here are a few close-ups of the characters:

And a very cheeky Sea Monkey! Eep! :D

But we didn't spend our whole time in the hotel and mall, we also got to go on a tour of the old trading part of Dubai. Reeve shot this photo of me approaching the spice market:

I love these old boats. Living by the Thames in London, I've had to come to terms with the fact that the old days of shipping are dead - the days when people heaved crates and barrels and shipyards swarmed with people - and container shipping has taken over. But these boats still unload the old way, and it was fascinating to see huge piles of boxes on the quayside. Someone could do a fascinating photo essay of these beautifully painted boats and their workers.

Amazing textiles and embroidered dresses in the market:

Exotic biscuits (I could have bought a Lexus!) and colourful spices. That's Georgina Walsh, the lit fest cultural and social programme manager, examining some sort of sponge with cooking expert Prue Leith.

I'll have to ask someone for our local guide's name, but he was very funny; he relished his ability to speak English and come up with startling and often wonderful new ways of saying things. Our favourite phrases included:

* 'Give me your laser-like attention'
* 'Make your bladder gladder'
* 'Ginger up your steps' / 'Please walk gingerly'
* 'If you have any questions, I am disposable'
* 'I hope you enjoyed our intensive and extensive tour and that it lived up to your most utopian expectations'
* ... And another one that is so good, I won't tell you, because it will probably end up in a book.

I only remembered these because I got Reeve to help me write them down in my notebook on the bus ride back. We also quite liked this phrase from the House of the Poet:

When we next saw camels, we made sure that none of them footed on us. ...But in case people think I'm being critical, it's just like the food; the English people spoke was so excellent that the rare, slight variations only gave their speech extra charm.

While we were in the old quarter, we also visited a house hotel with lots of art displayed in it.

This photo made me laugh, because I always wear a lot of colour, whereas Reeve revels in different tea-stained tones of brown. I like to call it 'The Sepia World of Reeve'.

Our guide also led us to the Women's Museum, not far from the market. We were given a gracious talk by the museum's founder, Professor Rafia Obaid Ghubash. It was fascinating to see the focus on women, and it's great that the museum is a place for people to gather, remember historic women from the region, read their poetry and discuss modern culture. But I struggled to relate to many of the ideals the museum seemed to put forward. As a professional woman who has decided not to have children, I didn't understand how to appreciate the seeming emphasis on women primarily as childbearers and mothers, and that role seeming to define their value. What about women who choose not to bear children, cannot have them, or define themselves by other things?

Also, I had a hard time knowing how to feel positive in any way about the display of facial coverings, that looked very much like heavy moustaches or horse bridles. Our professor guide spoke positively about them giving women dignity, but I still don't understand how, in a hot climate, men could wear cool white and keep their faces uncovered, while women wear heavy synthetic black garments and obscure their faces with something that looks so uncomfortable and impractical.

Again, the Burq'a seemed very impractical for passport photos. It made me feel that women were interchangeable, in a way that men weren't. Perhaps I misunderstood the exhibitions, but it made me see the need for meeting together with people from different cultures so we can discuss, debate, question our own beliefs and take away the best things from each culture.

But we can all agree about PENS. Emiratis appreciate a good pen. Here's a lovely case from the a museum of Dubai's oldest school. I love it that Arabic culture totally appreciates that writing is as much a visual art form as illustrating.

In fact, all the authors were given a very good fountain pen at the festival, sponsored by Montegrappa. Here's my note of appreciation in their guest book.

Speaking of facial covering, I was glad for the chance to meet in the Green Room someone I would have passed in the hallway without seeing, picture book writer and illustrator Maitha Al Khayat. Here she is with science fiction novelist Noura Noman. Noura's also planning to go into publishing Arabic comics, which would be fabulous. (You can follow her on Twitter as @NouraNoman.) Maitha (@MaithaALkhayat) has worked in the past on a picture book with British writer Vivian French (also at the festival), and she has a book coming out about a child who can recognise her mother, covered all in black, by her colourful socks.

It was great being able to talk comics, but we also talked about facial covering, which Maitha does find gives her dignity and the ability to keep her looks from getting in the way of relating to people. I find that the veil itself gets in the way of me managing to connect with people at an event; I've led events in Leicester with rows of mothers in the back covered in black, all but their eyes. I've gotten used to it, but one of the things that inspires me when speaking to groups of people is the quick flash of smiles when they connect with something I've said, and I can gauge the talk by seeing how animated their faces are. Then again, I feel slightly disingenuous, since I'm not exactly in my natural state either; I hide behind big hats, lipstick and costume. But that's about choice, I choose to do it, and so does Maitha. I really don't like people covering their faces, but I'm much more against it if it's something they're forced to do, either by a husband or a culture. I'm glad Maitha let me see her face when there weren't men around, but I missed saying hello to her later when she passed in the hallway because I only later realised it had been her. I'm a visual person, I miss the loss of instant individuality. But I'm very glad to have met Maitha and Noura and listened to them talk about it. It would be nice to talk more about comics, I hope to see them again some day.

Comics! Most of my events at the festival were stage events, but I also led one smaller comics workshop.

Since the workshop featured comics collaboration, I was glad that Philip Reeve agreed to come along with me and do a Comics Jam with me in front of everyone. I did the first panel, he did the second, I did the third, he finished the story.

Here are a couple of the group's Comic Jams! Each page had four diffent authors working on it!

I was glad how much the group really got stuck in to it, particularly one dad, who came up and thanked me at the end and said how much he'd enjoyed the activity. I love it when adults get involved, for three reasons: 1, because comics are for all ages; 2, because kids take the session much more seriously when they realise they're working alongside adults, not being babysat; 3, kids realise adults can have a laugh and be playful, too, even when they're focusing and working hard on something.

I wish I could have gone to all the other authors' events; there were so many amazing choices on offer! Reeve and I did sneak into the back of Vivian French's Picture Book Masterclass before our comics session, and were able to stay for three-quarters of it. Totally ace, that woman is so clever, and she really got everyone thinking. I've run into Viv several times at the Edinburgh Festival, and one of the highlights of this trip was getting to have meals with her and get to know her better. (Viv's @fivekingdoms on Twitter.)

We had a good laugh at the Emirates display of a First Class airline compartment, posing like celebrities. Viv tweeted this photo I took of her in the paparazzi spotlight.

Another very cool thing about the festival were two Emirati women who attended some of our events and made murals about them, right while we were talking! I'm horribly disappointed I didn't get a photo of them, and if anyone can tell me their names, I'll write them in here. I didn't even realise they were doing it in our Seawigs session and was completely bowled over with amazement when I walked into the festival bookshop and saw this huge mural:

Some close-up detail:

And here's the one they did at my Pirate event! Isn't that awesome?

Another event I got to attend was Philip Reeve's event with Charlie Higson. (Eoin Colfer was supposed to be part of it, too, but he was unwell.) Some of the schools had to leave early, and the guys signed a few books before they started.

So many of the children knew their work very well; the authors undoubtedly both felt very encouraged by that, and it showed, in a sparkling good session, touching on Charlie's Young James Bond books, the Doctor Who book for which both had written short stories, and Philip's Here Lies Arthur, Mortal Engines, and Larklight books. You can follow them at @monstroso and @philipreeve1 on Twitter. Send in Pam Ayres if Reeve's off Twitter for too long.

More excited fans:

I even got to sit with the speakers at dinner and watch the amazing fountains at the base of the Burj Khalifa: highest tower in the world, world's largest fountain. They put on amazing musical water shows every half hour, they were brilliant to watch.

Here's Sally Gardner (a href=http://jabberworks.livejournal.com/data/"https://twitter.com/TheSallyGardner">@TheSallyGardner</a>) watching the display:

The restaurant with the great view was slightly disappointingly British, but, hey, you can't go wrong with a good PIE.

We had lots of wonderful dinners. At this one, I ran around being slightly obnoxious and papping people on my iPhone. Here's Francesca Simon with Christina Lamb, journalist and co-author of I Am Malala, which has been very much in the news. Christina gave a great talk at the Opening Ceremony about working with Malala as the girl was recovering from being shot in the head, and we watched on-screen a message that Malala had recorded for us. (Francesca and Christina are @simon_francesca and @christinalamb on Twitter.)

Oo, selfie with Jeremy Paxman! He liked my hat.

And here are picture book legends Helen Oxenbury and her husband, John Birmingham. I'd never met either of them before, so it was a real honour to get the chance to have dinner with them. I'm a big fan of Farmer Duck and Mr Gumpy's Outing.

Being all posey with Reeve and Richard Madeley from the Richard and Judy book show:

And here's journalist Rosie Goldsmith (@GoldRosie)! When I was in Norway last month, my hosts there (John and Helga Rullestad) raved about her and told me I MUST find her in Dubai. I'm going back to Norway in November for the SILK festival and I'll look forward to seeing her then. (That's Paxman again, photobombing us in the back.)

Here's reporter and interviewer Riz Khan, who kept us laughing with his jokes and impressions all through dinner at the amazing Madinat Jumeirah hotel.

We got to do lots of media stuff. Here's my squid attacking Jeremy Bowen before a Dubai Eye radio interview.

An awards presentation, where I got to say a few words about making books, my lovely Seawigs publisher, Oxford University Press, and congratulate the winners of a top writing competition. (Read the full article here.)

Also, an interview about making picture books in The National:

And in case it all seems too glossy, a quick look backstage. ...Okay, there are thrones backstage. Which reminds me about a very long joke my dad used to tell about glass houses and stowing thrones.

Here's a jolly picture of Philip Reeve and Joanne Harris dancing beneath the palm trees. You can read Joanne's write-up of the festival over on her blog.

My only real regrets from the festival were not getting to meet Swiss cartoonist Philippe Chappuis (also known as 'Zep'), although I'm not sure what I would have said to him, probably just grinned a lot. And I only got to call greetings across the escalator to Lemn Sissay. He did a fantastic poetry recitation at the Desert Stanzas evening, which I couldn't really capture in a photograph, but which was magical, and set in a desert camp.

And I would have loved to have gone to more author talks, and seen Walter Wray, Steve Halliwell and Chris Hardy of LiTTLe MACHiNe perform on Friday night.

Here's a video preview of them, they're @L1TTL3MACH1N3 on Twitter and they're actually based in London, so I may yet get the chance to go along to one of their gigs.

This is LiTTLe MACHiNe (EPK) from LiTTLe MACHiNe on Vimeo.

Oh, and my last regret was not knowing in advance that a ballet troupe would basically be performing a Seawigs-themed ballet clip for us in the Closing Ceremony. If Reeve and I had known, we definitely would have roped them into doing our event with us. The crab was the cutest thing EVER.


Finally, a HUGE thanks to the team who ran the festival. They were incredible. The whole festival ran so smoothly, I had such fun, everyone seemed to be so well looked after, the kids were on fire with enthusiasm, we even got to sign a vast quantity of books.

Three cheers for Director Isobel Abulhoul, the visionary person who set up the festival in the first place, with the generous patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum (who is also an author). And that's fab intern Annabelle Corton standing with us!

And a massive round of applause to Acting Director and hero Yvette Judge, who started out running the children's part of the festival and took on the whole thing when Isobel was unwell and needed to stay in the UK. Total star, that woman. (She's @lit_ed on Twitter.)

Here's Cultural & Social Programme Manager Georgina Walsh coming in style across the water to collect us by boat at the Madinat Jumeirah hotel dinner:

Thank you, Emirates Airlines, for the VERY COMFY ride there and back, and for your beautifully be-hatted staff:

Here's super Jo James, who remarked on my hats each morning and was always totally organised, letting me know exactly where I should be and when.

I'm going to need some help here with names (can you help?) - names fall out the corners of my memory as quickly as coins through the holes in my ratty handbags - but these people were kind, loads of fun, and helpful, and made me feel surrounded by friends.

The Emirates Lit Fest has posted more photos on their Facebook page, if you want to check them out. I miss it already.

Goodbye, sweeping hotel view.

Goodbye, lovely breakfasts on the Crown Plaza terrace with funny, strange little birds with bobbly heads.

Goodbye, weird and wonderful architecture:

I'll miss how everything seemed to have such a heightened sense of drama about it:

And watching Reeve go off into the desert so far that all I could see was his hat bobbing along the dunes.

Thank you so much for your wonderful hospitality!

That was probably my longest blog post, ever. And here's where I make a dramatic fall into the sand, like Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Little Prince.


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20. seawigs at oxford lit fest 2014

Yesterday Oxford Lit Fest saw a sea life invasion!

Check out this wonderful Iris the mermaid costumes! It was made by Helen (@helen_geekmum on Twitter) and even includes Colin the crab and Iris's pointy specs!

Writer Jo Cotterill made these two great Seawigs!

And she tweeted this drawing by her daughter. (You can follow Jo at @jocotterillbook.)

Jo also took this photo of my co-author Philip Reeve and I leading everyone in a rousing rendition of the Eep Song:

It was actually quite a star-studded audience! Here's one of my illustration heroes, Mini Grey, who came along with her son. Both made drawings!

We got to see lots of people's fab drawings while we signed copies of Oliver and the Seawigs:

Photo by Jo Cotterill

So many details in this girl's drawing! Click on the photo for a close-up:

More fabulous Seawiggery!

Even the MC for our event, The Sunday Times reviewer Nicolette Jones (@NicoletteJones on Twitter) got into the swing of drawing a Sea Monkey! Here she is at lunch, with Paul Blezard (who still had his tan from the Emirates lit fest).

Thanks so much to everyone who came along, and a special thanks to the people who dressed up!

And who put up with my singing voice, which is as clear and melodic as Iris's:

Back in the festival Green Room, Horrid Henry's Francesca Simon asked to try on my Seawig:

And the daughter of our Oxford University Press publicist Harriet Bayly turned out to be a big fan of our upcoming book, Cakes in Space and we spent some time drawing Pilbeam the robot. (This book is the Uncorrected Proof copy, not the final version.)

I got to meet NYC-based writer Polly Shulman and her husband. Polly's written a book called The Wells Bequest, which I can't wait to read.

Oxford's always great fun to visit. Here I am, chucking Lewis Carroll under the chin, and the view from my bedroom in a hall of residence in Christ Church college.

Hogwarts breakfast! The Great Hall is pretty cool.

Reeve and I also visited The Story Museum, to see what they're up to, getting ready for their 26 Characters exhibition. Reeve has an uncanny knack of looking like a perfect Doctor Who.

We met up with The Story Museum's Tom Donegan and Neill Cameron, Philip Ardagh, Nicolette Jones and Ted Dewan in the pub. We were raving about the amazing Storyloom that Ted's designed, and just as the last few us of were about to leave, he invited us back to The Story Museum and said he'd fire it up for us. It's just too awesome to contemplate. (You can read an earlier blog post I wrote about it here.) Here's Ardagh, hard at work on it:

And this photo of Reeve is just plain weird:

Big thanks to Oxford lit fest for hosting us, everyone who took part in our event, Nicolette for chairing, The Story Museum, Oxford University Press and everyone who made is such a fantastic weekend. If you missed us, keep an eye on my Events Page to see if we're coming somewhere near you!

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21. comic capers at essex book festival!

So yesterday Nikki Gamble was tweeting this from the dressing rooms at Chelmsford's Cramphorn Theatre... who could these people be? (Ha ha, we were half hoping someone would draw the top part of the photo.)

And, of course, it was excellent and energetic writer Steve Cole and me, talking comics for Essex Book Festival!

Whenever I do stage events, I'm always a bit sorry that I don't get photos that I can use on my blog. But this great audience tweeted us a great selection! Here's one from @LynneWheater:

We invited people to dress up for the event and, hurrah! Some people did! Check out these great comics characters. Photo tweeted by @sarahyewman!

Steve brought a suitcase of costumes and two excellent volunteers - Heidi and Kit - came up and were transformed into superheroes, on stage and in drawings. Then Steve and I got the audience to help us turn them - Leopard Lady and Monkey Boy - into a comic strip! Photo tweeted by @DianaMayoillo:

Then we led everyone in drawing Superhamster, from Superkid, and people customised them with their own costumes and superpowers. Here's a fab one, tweeted by @LordSiBorg:

And the grand artwork finale!

Steve and I both love comics, but he gets much more excited about the superhero side of things than I do. I don't like many superhero comics, but there are so many other kinds of comics out there that I have no lack of choice! So I was particularly pleased to see Lucy dressed up as Hilda, from Luke Pearson's Hilda comics. Isn't this a great costume? We had a costume competition, and the judge picked the Doctor Who (who DID have an excellent costume, big congrats to him!), but this one was pretty awesome. Look at the hair! Check out the Hilda books if you haven't already. (He's @thatlukeperson on Twitter.) Sarah Yewman has written an excellent blog post about the day, do go have a look at it!

Check out this fab Hamster Man comic one of the kids in the audience made! So awesome to see kids making comics on the spot. I sometimes get festival people sighing when we ask for pencil and paper for everyone in the audience (it's one more thing they need to organise), but there's something really special about adults and kids not just hearing about drawing, but actually DOING it. I mean, that's really what it's all about! (So a big thanks to all the festivals who have humoured me so far with this one.) :D

Yay, Lucy and her friend brought along a couple frisky Sea Monkeys, knitted by their granny! The pattern was created by my studio mate Deadly Knitshade and you can download it free from my website if you want to make one.

Another cool thing: I got to meet the writer of our book Superkid, Claire Freedman, for the VERY FIRST TIME! She had a morning Aliens Love Underpants event, and we were able to have lunch together and talk about Superkid, being on stage, tricky-to-manage hair, all that kind of stuff. I usually work closely with my writers, so it always felt a bit odd that I hadn't met Claire, and I'm glad that it's happened at last. (Great to meet you, Claire!) She's @clairefreedman on Twitter.

Huge thanks to Steve, who was awesome to perform with. And to the fabulous Georgia Snelgrove, who organised our event for the Just Imagine story centre and Essex Book Festival! Thanks to its owner Nikki Gamble, who came to our event despite having just flown in from events in Qatar. And thanks to the Cramphorn Theatre for the use of your lovely venue, that was a fabulous afternoon!

I just had to show you the Berger & Wyse comic strip late that evening that made me spit up my tea. (Joe Berger makes children's books and comics, too; you can follow him at @_JoeBerger.)

One more thing: If you're getting today's copy of The Sunday Times, be sure to look out in The Funday Times for my Shark & Unicorn comic strip!

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22. cambridge lit fest 2014

Cambridge was all yellow and daffodils this morning for the Cambridge Lit Fest! Here's my Oliver and the Seawigs co-author Philip Reeve with me and Children's Events co-ordinator Sabine Edwards.

I got a lot of compliments on my hat, so I thought I would share its humble origins in case you fancied owning one, too. (Also, the bucket handle made a rather fine matching choker necklace.)

Cambridge is such a gorgeous city, and a great place to swan about with a ukulele, wearing a sailor dress and a squid on one's head. Here are Reeve and me leading the Eep Parade:

The audience helped us come up with things to draw to build a Seawig for a Rambling Isle:

And we led everyone in drawing their own Sea Monkeys!

I was surprised at the signing session that not only had people drawn Sea Monkeys, but a couple kids had also drawn their own Rambling Isles. Cool!

The culinary highlight of the festival definitely had to be these Chelsea buns. Chelsea buns are usually nothing like American cinnamon rolls - usually drier, with less icing and cinnamon. And I miss American cinnamon rolls. But an American would call these cinnamon rolls and I can honestly say they are better than any I have ever tasted in the USA. People on Twitter let me know that they were made by Fitzbillies on Trumpington Street. I may just have to pay it a visit on my next trip.

One of the fun things about a literary festival is bumping into other writers and illustrators in the Green Room. (That's what festivals call their hospitality room, even if it is not green. I'm not quite sure why that is.) Here's writer Tracey Corderoy and illustrator Steve Lenton with their characters Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam!

We got to meet writer Helen Dennis for the first time, and she and Philip discovered that they had both gone to the same school in Brighton, Stanley Deason. It was shut down for being terrible, was dubbed by The Guardian as 'the worst school in Britain' and Reeve used to rather enjoy watching it be at the absolute bottom of annual Ofsted reports until it got shut down. Helen said the bus drivers used to get so scared of the students that they'd sometimes refuse to stop at the bus stops. Funnily enough, Emily Gravett also went there, so it can count at least three illustrious authors, a Carnegie medal and a Greenaway medal among its alumni, which is pretty good for any school. Helen and Philip both sounded rather proud of it, and said it was a good place because if you weren't busy burning down the bus shelters, they'd count you a star pupil, and leave you alone to get on with reading, writing your own stories, whatever you wanted, really.

On the way out, we bumped into writer Darren Shan (pictured here) and also Marcus Sedgwick (but I didn't manage to grab a photo because the cab was just about to pull away).

One of the other fun things was getting to stay in one of the college's halls of residence. (The students were away for half-term break.) I stayed in Christ's College, which is a gorgeous building with ancient courtyards, but the dorm was a big modern thing, which my friend Bridget Hannigan referred to as 'The Typewriter'.

The Typewriter had a Darwin Garden out front, so we mucked around with the guy, whom I wouldn't have recognised without his beard. (Yes, Reeve's pondering his origins here.)

A huge thanks to Sabine, Festival Manager Susannah Gibson, young Greg for looking after us in the Green Room, the student who cleared all their stuff away so I could stay in his or her room, local friends who met up with us the evening before (including comics artist teams Emma Vieceli and Andrew Ruddick, and Woodrow Phoenix) and Bridget Hannigan, and everyone who came to our event and made it so much fun! You can see other tweets about the festival and photos over on the #CamLitFest hash tag.

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23. Very short talks

vsi banner

By Chloe Foster

We have seen an abundance of Very Short Introductions (VSI) authors appearing at UK festivals this year. Appearances so far have included at Words by the Water festival in Keswick, Oxford Literary Festival, and Edinburgh Science festival. The versitility of the series and its subjects means our author talks are popular at a variety of different types of festivals. First up, Words by the Water:

Later this month, we’ll have talks from VSI authors at Chipping Norton Literary Festival on the 26th and 27th April. This is followed by a series of talks at Ways with Words festival in Devon on the 12th July, Kings Place festival in London on the 14th September, and Cheltenham Literature festival from 3rd -12th October.

The Very Short Introductions (VSI) series combines a small format with authoritative analysis and big ideas for hundreds of topic areas. Written by our expert authors, these books can change the way you think about the things that interest you and are the perfect introduction to subjects you previously knew nothing about. Grow your knowledge with OUPblog and the VSI series every Friday, subscribe to Very Short Introductions articles on the OUPblog via email or RSS., and like Very Short Introductions on Facebook.

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24. Annecy Announces 18 Animated Features For 2014 Festival

Today the Annecy International Animated Film Festival announced the feature film selections for their 2014 edition. Eighteen films were selected—nine in competition and nine out of competition. A total of 68 animated features were submitted this year.

0 Comments on Annecy Announces 18 Animated Features For 2014 Festival as of 4/25/2014 5:03:00 PM
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25. #555 – Minnie & Moo: Hooves of Fire by Denys Cazet

minnie and moo hooves_page107_image1.

Minnie and Moo: Hooves of Fire

by Denys Cazet

Creston Books     2014


Age 8 to 12     206 pages


“It’s a perfect day for the First Annual Hoot, Holler, and Moo Talent Festival. The sun is shining in a warm autumn sky and the stage is set. Mr. and Mrs. Farmer are away on vacation, Minnie and Moo are dressed in their togas, Elvis has his bagpipe, the hyenas their jokes, the fox his magic tricks, the sheep a protest poem, and the cash box is stuffed with money from ticket sales. A perfect day. Wait a minute . . . Where is the cash box? Why are those coyotes on motorcycles? And who pushed those port-a-potties down the hill?”


“It was Indian summer on the farm. The air smelled of damp leaves and fallen apples.”

The Story

Minnie and Moo are on the stage looking over their First Annual Hoot, Holler, and Moo Talent Festival when Minnie begins worrying. Whenever Minnie thinks, she worries. First up on the stage are Zeke and Zack, formerly conjoined turkeys, to sing a turkey poem in two-part harmony. Wait, who is that with the greasy, slicked back hair pushing the turkeys off stage. It’s Elvis the rooster, with an ego bigger than the farm. He will steal the show all day long and when kicked off, again, he will go reluctantly with two words, “Geeze Louize.”

Meanwhile the coyotes are starting trouble, the weasels are conniving, and both want the cash box that is supposed to buy the farmer a new tractor. Throughout the day little catastrophes will occur. Moo will take it all in stride sure things will work out. Minnie worries. She wants to call off the festival. Now the hyenas have joined the coyotes and the weasels and that means just more trouble for Minnie to worry about . . . but then the cash box does go missing. It’s those hyenas, or those coyotes, or those weasels, or maybe all three. Minnie and Moo must get the money back, clean up the festival grounds, and get back to their animal homes before Mr. and Mrs. Farmer return home, just hours from now. Will they make it, or will all the hard work be for naught and Minnie right, they should have canceled the festival?



Minnie and Moo are quite a pair. They complement each other. One is of the mind that everything will work out fine, the other worries about everything. They are also two of the funniest cows in togas middle grade readers will ever meet. The cast of characters are right out of a slapstick movie. Most are the good guys, but then there are the bad guys who only want the moneybox. Then there is Elvis, a rooster performer that tries to steal and keep the stage as long as possible. Jokes are plenty, slapstick flies all over the stage, and sarcasm will have kids rolling on the floor. The animals have their eccentricities, all played for laughs.

The writing is very good. The author uses lots of dialogue, which speeds up the story. Minnie & Moo:  Hooves of Fire is a fast, enjoyable read, with loads of black and white illustrations to help the reader visualize the story. It was never difficult to see in my mind’s eye what was happening, but the illustrations are a nice break from the fast-paced story.


This is the newest of several Minnie and Moo stories, including Minnie & Moo and the Seven Wonders of the World. This is not a series in the traditional sense. Book 1 does not lead to book 2 into book 3 . . ., instead each are separate stories that stand on their own. The one advantage to reading the first book is knowing the characters, and there are a lot of them, prior to starting Hooves of Fire. Marketed as a middle grade book, Minnie & Moo:  Hooves of Fire could easily have been an early reader. The vocabulary is not difficult, nor is the plot hard to follow. Reluctant readers might even find Minnie and Moo an agreeable read.

I fell in love with these two adorable cows who only want to help their farmer get a needed tractor. The weasels are wonderful as villains with trickery, smart-aleck remarks, and a talent for smooth talking Moo into complacency—until Minnie begins to think and worry. Kids will find Minnie & Moo:  Hooves of Fire fun, funny, and frivolous in a good way. This is the kind of story a teacher could read aloud, one chapter at a time, with students eager for the next chapter. If these two moos are not the stars of a third book, I will miss them.


MINNIE & MOO: HOOVES OF FIRE. Text and illustrations copyright © 2014 by Denys Cazet. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Creston Books, Berkeley, CA.


Learn more about Minnie & Moo:  Hooves of Fire HERE.

Buy your copy of Minnie & Moo:  Hooves of Fire at AmazonB&NBook DepositoryCreston Booksyour local bookstore.


Meet the author / illustrator, Denys Cazet, at his blog:    http://www.dailypretzel.com/

Find ore books at publisher Creston Books’ website:    http://www.crestonbooks.co/


Also by Denys Cazet


Elvis the Rooster Almost Goes to Heaven

Elvis the Rooster Almost Goes to Heaven

Minnie & Moo and the Seven Wonders of the World

Minnie & Moo and the Seven Wonders of the World


Minnie and Moo: Wanted Dead or Alive

Minnie and Moo: Wanted Dead or Alive







hooves of fire

Filed under: 5stars, Children's Books, Favorites, Library Donated Books, Middle Grade, Series Tagged: children's book reviews, cows, Creston Books, Denys Cazet, farms, festivals, humor, light-hearted fare, slapstick, weasels coyotes and hyenas

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