Friday, 16 September 2011

Woman's Hour

As I cycled to the BBC Radio Cambridge studio yesterday morning I had to use all my resolve to keep my nerves under control. And it wasn’t just the traffic on Milton Road that was giving me butterflies in the stomach (those massive great swallowtails from the Amazon rainforest were clog-dancing in there, I’m sure).

Last week I received a call from the lovely publicist at Orion, to say that Woman’s Hour were interested in inviting me to take part in a discussion on tomboys - linking to the fact that Emily Wild in Adventure Island is something of a tomboy, in the grand tradition of George in The Famous Five. There followed a lot of Yikes! and OMG! on my part, two long chats with the producer/researcher for Woman’s Hour (I don’t think I could have done it if she hadn’t been so positive and reassuring) and finally that long cycle ride of doom.

I don’t know what I was expecting when I reached the studio - I’ve never appeared (if 'appear' is the right word) on radio before in any capacity. I wasn’t expecting a red carpet or anything, but was a little surprised at how distinctly low-key it was. I was ushered into a small room with a microphone, a set of headphones lying on a desk and a computer display on the wall and left to get on with it. It reminded me of recording speech materials for experiments in the soundproof booth in my previous life as a psycholinguist - expect there were no checks to make sure the microphone was at the right angle or that the recording system was working. Or even to make sure I didn’t spill coffee everywhere!

When I heard a voice coming over the headphones I didn’t even realise the sound engineer in the main studio was talking to me! Eventually I cottoned on, and from that point it was fine. I had clear instructions to follow. Jenni Murray then came over the headphones to say hello to me and the other guest and flag up a couple of questions she’d be asking. Again, she was so nice and reassuring it made the whole thing much easier. I scribbled more notes and watched the clock click very slowly round to 10.35, heard the link to our item over the headphones and gulped down lungfuls of deep breaths... Then I heard those terrifying words...'I’ll come to you first, Helen...'
I have no idea at all how it sounded on air. I know that the programme is on the website, but I can’t bear to listen to it.

It was a great experience, and I’m so pleased I did it - and delighted to have been given the opportunity.

I had a lovely message from the producer afterwards to say it had gone well and they were really pleased with the discussion. They may even ask me back one day.

The programme is on the Woman’s Hour website if you want to hear what we had to say about tomboys. Just don’t tell me if I sound ridiculous. I’d rather not know!

Monday, 5 September 2011

Fish Tales from Newlyn

Never mind Hay or Edinburgh or even Cannes: Newlyn Fish Festival is where it’s at! OK, so perhaps not the obvious literary venue for my first public reading...but, the Adventure Island series is set in Cornwall, after all...

So I reported for duty to the Fish Tales story-tellers tent, clutching a handful of notes and copies of the books and feeling very nervous. Would anyone turn up? Would the tent be full of adults expecting a stand-up routine or folk singer rather than a children’s author? Would any children yawn, cry or sneak out the back? In the end I needn’t have worried.

The audiences were small - it was a lovely sunny day and there were so many other fun things to do at the festival(*) that not many ventured to the tent at the back of the ice works -  but the families who did come to the two sessions were wonderful. Everyone listened attentively, smiled in the right places, and was kind enough to say nice things and buy some books. One lovely family even bought the full set of all six (including the one copy of Book Six I had with me to read from, complete with my crossings out where I’d abridged a passage slightly for the reading!).
Ooh, an exciting bit!

...the best audience
Thank you very much to George and Tom and to your mum and dad, for being the best first audience I could have wished for.

What an absolute thrill it was to read from my books while real people actually listened!

I read the passage from The Mystery of The Vanishing Skeleton, in which Jack has to escape from a fire in the ice works through the window.

"Look! The very window!“
And by extraordinary good fortune, the story tent was pitched right next door the very ice works - just the one I used as a source for the one in the book. I was able to tell the children. “If you look up as you leave the tent you’ll see the very window that Jack is hanging out of in this picture!

“with thanks for Operation Ice Works...”
When I was writing Book 6, my sister Jane, who lives in Newlyn -  and is my unofficial roving reporter and researcher in Cornwall - sent me lots of photos of the Cornish Ice ice works from all angles, and quizzed local fishermen about its operation. Hence, The Vanishing Skeleton is dedicated to her - ‘with thanks for Operation Ice Works

“It’s next to the ice works!” we exclaimed.
So when we first saw the location of the story tent, we jumped up in down in delight, as if we’d discovered a jewel-encrusted chateau filled with chocolate truffles. ‘It’s next to the ice works!” we exclaimed.  There were puzzled looks all round as we proceeded to photograph a rather ordinary empty tent and the side of the not-terribly-photogenic-ice-works.

Thank you to Angela Stoner for organising the Fish Tales tent and inviting me to take part. Angela has written a beautiful picture book called Once in a Blue Moon: A Mermaid’s Tale. I was delighted to have my copy signed. It’ll be winging its way to our little niece and nephew in Thailand soon.

Thank you again, to Jane, not only for Operation Ice Works, but for Operation Fish Festival and Operation Fun Family Get-together-in-Cornwall. Thank you to Will for being Number One Assistant and to Mac for the very special fish memento, and to Mac and Paul for taking photos.

(*) Lots of other things to do at the festival - apart from amazing displays of fish and cookery demonstrations (how could I complete with The Big Fish Filleting Challenge?) , there were stalls selling fun things like these Cornish pastyche bookmarks. (I just had to buy a set - they’re almost as cool as the Adventure Island bookmarks!)

And then there was Bilbo the lifeguard dog. Who wouldn’t fall in love with this guy - a massive Newfoundland Water dog. He has webbed feet and saves people by swimming out to them with a float on a long lead. I could hardly drag Will away. Two things I know for sure. (1) Will is going to ask for a Newfoundland puppy for Christmas, and (2) Drift would love to recruit Bilbo to the Canine Division!

And finally, I was trying to think of an example of a children’s book with a fishy theme, and I remembered the fabulous A Fish of the World by Terry Jones (yes, the one from Monty Python) beautifully illustrated by Michael Foreman. The herring hero meets a rather unfortunate end which could be a bit upsetting for readers of a sensitive disposition, but my boys (who are not!) loved it. It’s one of the select band of  picture books that has  survived all the bookshelf clearances and now rubs shoulders with Malorie Blackman and George Orwell!