Wychwood, Winning and Wondrous Things!

It’s been such an exciting few days; I hardly know where to start! Last Friday, I wrote a guest post on the wonderful blog Serendipity Reviews. It’s a Letter To My Ten-Year-Old Self, and you can read it here. Lots of people tweeted me to say how much they enjoyed the post – and THEN, completely out of the blue, the Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell sent me THESE… (click on them to see full size)

Riddell_1 Riddell_2 Riddell_3

He’d enjoyed my piece so much he’d illustrated it!

I was blown away. I was meant to be packing for the Wychwood Festival, but I spent most of Friday dancing around my house with sheer joy, and telling everyone I knew about Chris’s wonderful drawings. Proper delighted, I was!

I did eventually get myself organised and over to Wychwood, which takes place at Cheltenham Racecourse. This is the fourth year I’ve been (third time as an invited author) and it’s such a lovely festival: incredibly family-friendly and laid-back. And, no matter what the forecast, somehow it’s always lovely weather on the day! I was camping with my fab author pal John Dougherty and his daughter, and my husband and kids came up for the day on Saturday. I did an Electrigirl event, which was huge fun, and then on the Sunday afternoon, my band First Draft played its second gig of the year!

Lots of my books in the Waterstones tent!
Lots of my books in the Waterstones tent!
Me in my Electrigirl kit messing around with author Philip Ardagh (thanks for the photo, Philip!)
Me in my Electrigirl kit messing around with author Philip Ardagh (thanks for the photo, Philip!)
Drinking Pimms with John Dougherty before our band gig, in the glorious sunshine! (thanks to Philip Ardagh for photo)
Drinking Pimms with John Dougherty before our band gig, in the glorious sunshine! (photo: Philip Ardagh)
First Draft, a melting pot of cracking tunes and slimy suncream! (Photo credit: Philip Ardagh)
First Draft, a melting pot of cracking tunes and slimy suncream! (Photo: Philip Ardagh)

It was a hot and sweaty performance thanks to the blistering sun outside the tent, and I suffered from drooping-microphone-itis (thanks to author Ali Sparkes for stepping in and rescuing me in the middle of a song when I couldn’t hold my own microphone!) but the audience was brilliant, and everyone enjoyed themselves very much.

On Tuesday, I got on a train to Newcastle for the North East Book Awards, for which Looking at the Stars was shortlisted, alongside Gill Lewis’s Gorilla Dawn, Ross Welford’s Time Travelling With A Hamster, Katherine Woodvine’s The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow, and Lara Williamson’s The Boy Who Sailed The Ocean In An Armchair. An impressive line-up of books!

Gill and Ross had made it up for the ceremony too, and we all had the chance to make speeches and answer questions from the 250-strong audience of kids, librarians and teachers. I talked about the importance of imagination. Gill dressed up as a gorilla. Ross did a magic trick. What a great variety!

I helped Gill Lewis with her demonstration of gorilla behaviour...
I helped Gill Lewis with her demonstration of gorilla behaviour…three years of drama training is never wasted! (photo credit: Ross Welford)

And THEN the winner was announced – and it was ME!! I was really shocked, and although I grabbed the microphone, all I could do was say, ‘Thank you, thank you. Gosh, thank you,’ in a kind of babbling incoherence. And then I wobbled on about how lovely everyone in children’s publishing is and how lucky I was to be able to do this, and how wonderful all the kids were, and then I said thank you a lot more, and then I shut up.

Back in the hotel room, still on cloud nine
Back in the hotel room, still on cloud nine

And then I signed about a gazillion books, including copies of Electrigirl and A Library of Lemons, and the kids were all very congratulatory and said lovely things to me, and took lots of selfies! And Gill and Ross were just lovely too, despite presumably wanting to kick me in the ankle for winning (because let’s face it, we all hate not winning) and the compere Alec Williams was very kind and didn’t mention how he’d heard most of my speech before (at the Oxfordshire Book Awards last November, which I didn’t win) and then the kids went home and Gill, Ross, Alec and I went out for dinner with the wonderful librarian organiser Eileen Armstrong, who is just incredibly sweet and unassuming and bascially the unsung hero of the whole shebang, quietly working away behind the scenes. I should have got a photo with her! Next time, Eileen.

Signing books for brilliant kids!
Signing books for brilliant kids!

Over two hundred children are personally involved in the North East Book Award, reading the shortlist and voting for their favourite. Thank you to all of them for being so engaged with reading and books. You guys are the reason authors write. And thank you too to your teachers and librarians for supporting the awards so enthusiastically and giving up spare time to meet with book clubs and bring the kids to the ceremony. I had a wonderful evening.

And THEN on the way home yesterday, the Guardian posted an article I’d written about friendship – you can read it here – and lots of people said nice things about that too.

I feel like I have an awful lot to be thankful for at the moment. And I hope to have some good news to share very soon about new books for next year too! What a lucky girl I am.

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