Last weekend saw the start of this year’s Cardiff Children’s Literature Festival and we were delighted to make the journey south to see a few events. The programme for the book-fest is brilliant, with a mix of new and established authors and illustrators appealing to a range of ages. It’s fantastic that the festival, now in its seventh year, celebrates Welsh authors and illustrators so strongly – and yet it has nationwide appeal. Taking place in a number of the city’s iconic buildings, this young festival is well-supported and feels prestigious.
Over the course of the weekend we saw four of Wales’ finest – starting with the wonderful Catherine Fisher who spoke at length to a keen audience of avid readers. Her latest book, The Clockwork Crow (Firefly Press) was shortlisted for the Blue Peter Book Award and has recently been nominated for the Tir-na-nOg Award, for books with an authentic Welsh background. In the plush surroundings of Cardiff Central Library, Catherine spoke with passion about her love of fantasy; memories of her father reading Alice in Wonderland aloud; and her discovery of Tolkien.
She also told the enraptured gathering not to ask her about plotting or where she gets her ideas, or even why she writes for children! She writes what she writes, and what comes out are children’s books. Her ideas “just appear”, and she has “no idea” what is going to happen in the story when she sits down to write it. She doesn’t plan – but feels the thrill of the reader as the story forms on the page. Later, we asked Catherine if this meant that there was more focus on editing her books, and she told us that she does this as she writes. She tends to go through the book twice more, “fine-tuning the language” and making details crisp.
After reading from The Clockwork Crow, Catherine Fisher revealed that it would now be the start of a trilogy. The Velvet Fox is currently being written and will hopefully be published around October 2019. In that book, the crow will not be returned to his normal form and so a third book will be required to make that happen.
The Clockwork Crow has already been a big success and both author and publisher are hopeful that there is more to come. Thank you to Catherine for granting a private audience for a short time to ask a few questions, the final one of which was “If you could have any super-power, what would it be?” This led to much discussion and a book recommendation for Noah to read HG Wells’ ‘The Invisible Man’. In the end, Catherine decided that, provided she could avoid the difficulties that The Invisible Man had (not being able to hide his clothes, or disguise his drink from descending his food pipe) she would like to have that magical quality.
Next up was Gavin Puckett and his wonderful “Fables from the Stables” session at Cardiff City Hall. Gavin spoke about how having a child gave him the impetus to write. Several years ago, whilst driving, Gavin had heard a radio show posing the question, “Which sports are carried out backwards?” Puzzling this over, Gavin had driven past a lone horse in a field and thought to himself, “What could make a horse walk backwards?” Fables from the Stables was born!
Gavin’s session was fun and interactive, geared towards his 5-9 audience. The children and adults enjoyed the quizzes and were treated to a reading from Gavin’s latest book, Hayley, The Hairy Horse. Having been educated on the varied uses of horse hair, we were left on the proverbial cliff with the reading ending enigmatically: “Would the lovely, hairy Hayley lose her whole tail?!”
Mummy found herself volunteered (thanks to Nina and Kit) to represent a rock star in the Hendrix the Rocking Horse music round. Standing in front of a room full of children and adults, holding an inflatable guitar, with stripy socks on her wrists and red knickers on her head, was not how we had imagined our weekend to run. By the 5th tune Mummy became more accustomed to her role and rocked out with a reasonable amount of energy to “Peppa Pig” and “Old McDonald”.
Thanks to Gavin for a really fun and engaging session. The books have all been hits for the younger bookworms and the grown-ups found plenty to chortle at too!
Saturday afternoon was given over to The Girls by Lauren Ace and Jenny Løvlie. This session had a distinctively chilled out flavour with the audience encouraged to snuggle up with the fabulously enticing pile of cushions covering the front of the room. Girls made chairs, beds, cars and lounged comfortably whilst Lauren and Jenny spoke of their inspirations and ideas behind the illustrated story.
The importance of friendship was at the core of the session. The illustrations are beautiful, complimenting and enhancing the impact of the deceptively simple text. One of the great joys of The Girls is its ability to engage readers, regardless of age. Certainly the Mums in our session had as much to talk about as their daughters. Both Lauren and Jenny spoke of their own friendships and how growing up – either in a busy world of family and friends, or in a remote Nordic village (being the first child born in 12 years, amongst a population of 30!) – is shaped by the people we surround ourselves with. We were all delighted with the prospect of a follow-up, The Boys.
Nina and I enjoyed drawing our own best friends and the whole group were delighted to share names and descriptions of friends, who were then turned into perfect little drawings before our eyes. Løvlie’s talent is in her ability to translate human spirit into art and her humble “I’m an illustrator, it’s what I do,” understates her great talent. Løvlie delights in her work, describing how her soul lifts as she enters her workplace, where she is surrounded by what sounds like a remarkable hub of creatives. Lauren has started writing more recently and finds the outdoors to be the best location for harvesting her ideas.
The two women have an obvious bond, derived from this first collaboration. We were lucky enough to have a chance to speak with them both after the session and their warmth and enthusiasm for life in general was pretty intoxicating.
Following a well deserved rest (and a visit to a few Cardiff cafes, bookstores and record shops), and a good sleep, we returned the next day to meet Karin Celestine and her tribe of felted creatures. It was a real pleasure to meet Karin and spend some time with her afterwards, but none of us (Daddy worm especially) could contain our joy at meeting Bert, Bertram, Granny Dandelion, Grandpa Burdock and the gang. There was so much adoration in the room for these creatures, who under Karin’s leadership bring kindness, compassion, love and understanding in a world often blighted by worry, intolerance and cruelty.
Karin read from Bert’s Garden (Graffeg), a simply wonderful tale about the über-kind Bert who loves having a sit in the garden, with tea and biscuits, and welcoming visitors with beautiful produce. He is caring towards all creatures in his garden, including the slugs and snails and the bugs that wake him in the night. In the story, he provides a new home for some beetles who are enormously grateful for somewhere cosy and dry to live. The assembled group of 4-7 year olds were then encouraged to get stuck in to making bug houses, and were all delighted to take them home with a sticker and a packet of seeds.
The ninth book from Celestine and the Hare, Helping Hedgehog Home, is due for publication later this month and completes the Tribe ennealogy (yes, we looked that up – it’s an art work in nine parts). We had a wonderful chat with Karin* after the event and asked her a bit more about Hedgehog. She told us, “There is more humour in this one, but still with an ecological message.”
“A lot of the environmental issues can be too big and too frightening for young children – as a child you can feel completely helpless to do anything about it. I remember the ‘Save the Tiger’ campaign from when I was younger, and short of buying a membership to the WWF there was nothing I could do – and for me, that’s not very positive. I want anybody to be able to do something to help. Similar to today’s event – anyone can make a bug house and make a difference and that’s what we did.”
*We’ll publish a full interview with Karin later this month to coincide with Helping Hedgehog Home.
In the back of each of Karin’s books there are some suggested craft activities that readers can engage with – such as making a bug house. In the new book, as the Hedgehog tries to find her way home by making a hot air balloon, readers can try their hand at making one from papier mâché. Do not worry too much about Hedgehog’s escapades, because as Karin revealed to us, “Granny saves the day in a very simple and sensible way.”
It’s fair to say that we had a brilliant weekend in Cardiff thanks to the Cardiff Children’s Literature Festival. A truly fabulous festival with a wide variety of events for all ages. The second weekend continues to feature amazing authors and we’re sad that we can’t get there ourselves. If you get the opportunity, do take a look at their website, even just to keep yourself in the loop for next year.
We received complimentary tickets to the above events thanks to Cardiff Children’s Literature Festival. They also helped us to arrange conversations with the authors.
The Clockwork Crow by Catherine Fisher is published by Firefly and is out now.
Hayley The Hairy Horse by Gavin Puckett will be published by Faber and Faber in June 2019. Other Fables in the Stables books are available now.
The Girls by Lauren Ace and Jenny Løvlie is published by Caterpillar, part of the Little Tiger group and is out now.
Helping Hedgehog Home by Celestine and the Hare will be published by Graffeg in late April 2019. The 8 other books, including Bert’s Garden are available now.