Festival Time

Cheltenham Literature Festival is over. The children’s events were lively, musical, noisy, and educational.

My week started off with a little disappointment; Patrick Ness was unable to attend. I won’t deny that I was a slight heartbroken but I was pleasantly surprised  by how much I enjoyed his replacement, Tanya Landman. (I should say that I was surprised because I’ve not read any of her books, not because I dislike her or her writing.)

Tanya Landman is known for writing young adult books with strong female leads. Her books are an antithesis to the vulnerable “heroines” of Hollywood in which women are always falling over and needing rescue.

“Why are they always falling over and fainting?” She cried!

Tanya was in Cheltenham to promote her new book Hell and High Water and Buffalo Soldier, which won her the Carnegie Medal earlier this year.

Tanya is a great role model for young adults, encouraging the message that women have a place in adventure stories that lies beyond the standard love interest or damsel in distress archetypes.


David Almond is the well known author of Skellig. He has the most beautiful accent – just listen to the audiobook of Skellig; there is nothing more pleasing to the ear than the words “Nectar of the Gods” spoken in a Geordie accent.

David was promoting his new paperback A Song for Ella Grey, a modern retelling of the Greek tragedy of Orpheus and Euridice. I love this myth so naturally I rushed out for my signed copy.

He discussed the power of imagination, overcoming self doubt, his favourite stationary (I’ve never heard so much admiration for a blue Sharpie), and his favourite word (which is quark by the way).

His advice for aspiring authors is this:

“Accept that you can’t be perfect…make it lovely.”


Julian Clary and David Roberts are the dream team. Julian, comedian and author, and David, creator of Dirty Bertie, have teamed up to create The Bolds. TheBolds are a family of hyenas, slyly passing themselves off as humans: living in a human house, working human jobs, wearing human clothes etc.

Julian and David make an excellent double act, not only in their book, but also on stage. They are both amazingly funny and talented.

Activity: Design a crazy hat for Mrs Bold to sell in her hat shop. What might go on it?


Harry Potter: Boy, Wizard, Hero was a series of games and activities led by clown, Fleur Alexander. Together, Fleur and the children played Quiddich, sorted “students” into houses and tested their Potter knowledge against one another in the ultimate house battle. Ravenclaw were victorious (obviously! We Eagles never lose a battle of the brain).


Horrid Henry vs Dennis the Menace is literally what it sounds like. Horrid Henry creator Francesca Simon and Steven Butler, author of Diary of Dennis the Menace battled it out for the crown of Most Horrid. Each author pleaded their case and read aloud from the latest books in their respective series. The event ended in Steven stealing the crown and Francesca declaring herself Emperor. The kids in the audience absolutely LOVED it. #TeamDennis btw.


Chris Riddell is the event I’d been waiting for. The recently medalled Children’s Laureate discussed his new book in the Goth Girl series: Goth Girl and the Wuthering Fright. One of my colleagues let slip that I happen to be a mega fan, and when I next looked up at the projector screen, there was a girl wearing a ‘Rosy’ name tag.

“Hey! That’s my name!” I shouted.

And so forever more, I shall be immortalised in the pages of the Children’s Laureate’s sketchbook.


Gary Northfield, the cartoonist from the Horrible Histories magazine, The Beano and The Phoenix presents his new book Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans.

Based upon the exotic animal fights in the Colosseum, Gary imagines what might happen if the animals fought back. And so an unlikely group of gladiators is born.

Activity: Design your own gladiator. What sort of animal are they? Are they brave or cowardly? Fast or slow? Big or small? Can they fly? Swim? Jump? Dig?


Atinuke, a Nigerian/British author, has written two series depicting opposing lifestyles of Nigerian children. The Anna Hibiscus books are inspired by Atinuke’s own childhood experience of growing up in the city of Lagos. She wrote these books to show that African life is not all safaris and mud huts. The No. 1 Car Spotter series depicts the opposing way of life, set in a remote village with no running water or electricity, Atinuke says it’s not too dissimilar to where she now lives in Wales.

Both series are about smart children experiencing everyday life and solving mysteries.


Gareth P. Jones is the author of many books including the Ninja Meerkats and the Steampunk Pirates. Gareth acted out his latest book, Clash of the Rival Robots, with help from the audience whilst singing songs from the books.

Activity: Write a pirate song like the ones in the Steampunk Pirates. Or try making up a pirate themed joke. For example:

Why couldn’t the pirate play cards?
Because he was standing on the deck!


Helen Moss, master of the mystery novel, spoke about how to write a great detective/adventure story. Her  advice is “shmoooooooshing”. Take two ideas and shmoooooosh them together. For example her book The Mystery of the Black Salamander was inspired by shmoooooooshing the characteristics of a salamander with a sports car.

Activity: What would you shmoooooosh with a sports car? What special powers would it have? Where would you go in it? Who would you go with? What problems might you face? How would you solve them?

Below is an octopus car designed by a member of the audience, badly sketched by me but you get the idea.  


I can easily say that all the events were fantastic, although my personal highlights have to be Chris Riddell and David Almond. My Patrick Ness wounds might take a while to heal though.

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