Book frenzy week!

It’s been a week of hurtling through book-related celebrations that has left us feeling exhilarated at so much enthusiasm for books, exhausted – and suffering from a severe case of bookshop envy.
Recovering as we were from the previous week’s excitement with Cathy Cassidy – and Our Lady’s school in Abingdon hosting their first book festival (with more than an author a day visiting the school) – on Thursday we were up and ready to run a bookstall for the Oxfordshire Book Award ceremony – 300 children, 5 authors and a lot of cake.

With only about half an hour to transform a school dining room into a book buying and signing palace, it was a race against time to deliver, unload and unpack 25 boxes of specially chosen titles – from all the current new crop of interesting writers, bestsellers – but, primarily titles from no fewer than five guest authors at the Oxfordshire Book Award ceremony.

The Oxfordshire Book Award is run among primary and secondary schools in Oxfordshire with the aim of encouraging reading and lively debate about reading. And if the enthusiasm for book buying is any sort of gauge of success – all this encouragement has definitely created a severe case of bookitis among all the pupils who attended.

There was certainly a lively enough atmosphere as we served up books at the same time as the children were served up afternoon tea refreshments at Abingdon School, following an afternoon of listening to the guest speakers. There was a chance for children to meet some of the prize-winning authors, as well as guest authors Jo Cotterill, SL Powell and Sally Nicholls.
Award-winning author Malorie Blackman (winner of Secondary School Category for ‘Boys Don’t Cry’) was kept busy signing and meeting her fans.

Axel Scheffler, best-known as illustrator of The Gruffalo, won Best Picture Book (Primary School Category) for ‘Zog’, and the queues for him didn’t die down until everyone had to be dragged back to school for the end of the day.

The awards are judged by children across schools in Oxfordshire. They also picked Michael Morpurgo’s ‘Shadow’ as the winner of the Primary Book award.

Our sincere thanks to Gabby, Jo and Sally for their assistance in manning the bookstall. I don’t suspect for a minute they knew what they were letting themselves in for, but it was too late to prepare them when someone suddenly yelled ‘they’re coming’ and the next 40 minutes went by in a blur of recommending titles and scrabbling to find enough one pound coins.

The atmosphere wasn’t much less frantic at the opening of Barefoot Books in Summertown (piccies below).

The whole place is enticing enough to host a children’s party, let alone some storytelling. It’s a beautiful space for selling books.

It’s wonderful to be able to add Barefoot to the list of Oxfordshire booksellers and we hope their incredible programme of events means many people will make the trip to Summertown and fall in love with Barefoot Books.

We were lucky enough to grab a little time with two of the authors on Thursday – our thanks to Sally Nicholls and Jo Cotterill.

Five questions with . . . Sally Nicholl’s writing life
Sally Nicholls is the author of two books. 'Ways to Live Forever' is about a boy with leukaemia, and won the Waterstone's Children's Book Prize. It is currently being translated into sixteen languages. 'Season of Secrets' is based on the pagan myth of the green man.

1.    What are you working on at the moment?
I am trying to put together a submission for my next book. I am at a really very early stage with putting together my ideas and it might be a ghost story. I’ve also been commissioned to write two books for Barrington Stoke, who publish books for reluctant readers.

2.    What is the best writing tip you’ve ever been given?
To learn from writers that you love, but not to try to write the same book as they would write – that way your book will only ever be second rate. You have to write the book that only you can write. You have to write about the things you love.

Also – that the first draft won’t be any good, but that is a good thing. A first draft can be as rubbish as you like and this is a positive thing because what’s important is that you have got it written and can start to work on it.

3.    What is the best thing and the worst thing about being a children’s writer?
The thing that I like is that you have a lot more freedom. You can write a realistic book and a historical book and they will sit together on a bookshelf. What I don’t like is the fact that a book takes so long to write, it takes several years to finish a book and you are on your own in front of a computer.

4.    Do you have a writer’s survival kit, eg a place, thing or snack essential before you can start work?
I am definitely a procrastinator, I always think a cup of tea would be nice, so for me it helps if I am somewhere else – someone where I know I am there because I am supposed to be writing. I like best to be writing with other people. Getting two or three people together in the same room who are supposed to be writing really works for me because you don’t want to be the one who’s not writing.

5.    What was your biggest breakthrough?
It never really felt like I had a breakthrough, more a series of stages. Firstly, getting on an MA course, finding an agent, then a publisher. I had five publishers interested in my first book, so probably my biggest breakthrough was when a publisher actually said they would pay me some actual money. That meant I was able to write and just work part-time three days a week.

Five questions with . . . Jo Cotterill’s writing life
Joanna Kenrick published her first book, Moondance, a picture book for young children, in 2004. Since then, she has published many different books for teenagers and young people, including her young adult novel Red Tears, a story about a teenage girl who turns to self-harm. She also writes a series of books for 9-13s called Sweet Hearts under the name Jo Cotterill.

1.    What are you working on at the moment?
Book 6 in the Sweet Hearts series, which will be the last Sweet Hearts book! It’s due out in June 2012 and is about a synchronised swimmer competing in the Olympics.

2.    What is the best writing tip you’ve ever been given?
Read, read, read

Write, write, write

I can’t remember who said it, but, to me, it sums up everything an aspiring writer needs to know.

3.    What is the best thing and the worst thing about being a children’s writer?
Best thing: being paid to make up stuff!

Worst thing: constant worry about money . . .

4.    Do you have a writer’s survival kit, eg a place, thing or snack essential bfore you can start work?
Empty house! Absolutely essential!

5. What was your biggest breakthrough?
Getting an agent for my YA novel ‘Red Tears’. It was the first time I really believed I could have a career in writing.

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