Those of you who’ve read my blog over the years will know that I’m a BIG fan of knitted cakes (unlike Mayor Flabby Gomez in my Grubtown Tales, who knits himself an entire house, living in a shed in the meantime). I suspect it was only a matter of time before these knitted pastries, tarts, rolls and the like would attract the attentions of a knitted insect… and here he is: meet Buzz, the knitted bee. To me, he is — most definitely — the bee’s knees.
PS. If you’re wondering why the phrase ‘the bee’s knees’ means something is pukka or ‘the business’, the answer is confusing, not least because, back in the 18th century, it meant something completely different. In fact, far from being ‘the cat’s whiskers’ it meant that something was insignificant.
It was in the 1920s that the phrase took on its new ‘cat pyjamas’ kinda meaning — and how come the cat gets to show off his facial hair AND his nightwear? — but no one is absolutely sure why the bee’s knees came to mean what we now call ‘the business’.*
*Which may well be a corruption of the phrase — er — ‘the bees knees’, in the first place.
Now, buzz off…
To find out more about GRUBTOWN, click here
Today sees the general release of the latest Muppet move which is, I believe, succinctly called THE MUPPETS. I cannot overstate how important the Muppets have been to certain aspects of my life. I’m not claiming to have been left on the steps of the Muppet Theatre and brought up by Kermit and the gang as one of their own — I was too old by the time The Muppet Show came around — but from the very first time I laid eyes on them and saw just how full of LIFE they were, they rocked my world.
That their creator Jim Henson died so tragically young and so long ago now and that Frank Oz has declined to be a part of this latest venture means that, for a bearded old curmudgeon like me, the new film probably won’t have quite the same magic as THE GREAT MUPPET CAPER… but, then again, I did see that film four or five times in the same week in the same cinema (in St. Martin’s Lane, London) when it first came out.
Beady-eyed Muppet fans may even find a number of little homages — little tributes — dotted about my books, especially in my third Eddie Dickens adventure, TERRIBLE TIMES. I even have a new short story called These are the yolks, folks!’ in NEXT, an anthology about the afterlife, out later this year. And Muppets play a big part in that, yet I wrote it blissfully unaware that the new Muppet movie was about to bring them bursting back onto the scene.
Kermit, Fozzie, Gonzo, Miss Piggy, Dr Bunsen Honeydew, his assistant Beaker, and the like all have such a very special place in my heart. But what is it about them? Is it because they look great? That it’s so ‘clever how they’re done’? Because they’re so funny and inventive? Of course, it’s all of those things. But most of all, they’re characters. They have heart
So I hold out my arms to welcome them and the new film, not to embrace them with, but to wave around in frantic excitement just like Kermit likes to do.
Welcome back, guys, though, of course, you’ve never really been away.
A good day was had by all, and Willingdon School has a fab new library.
As for those scissors?
Tomorrow — which is a Thursday, the last time I checked — I will be officially opening a school library. I’ve had the honour of opening a number of school libraries over the years, and it always gives me pleasure because a good school library can make a world of difference. I went to five different schools during my lacklustre education and I was a librarian at at least two of them, and was even a library assistant in the big, wide world in later life… but back to the opening. A good library opening needs:
1. a library to open.
2. a doorway to put the ribbon across
3. a ribbon (see above)
4. something to fix the ribbon in place
5. an audience to clap and cheer
6. the official library opener (to clap and cheer at)
7. a school librarian (to clap and cheer at)
8. a press photographer to capture all that clapping and cheering
8. a pair of scissor to cut the ribbon.
Now, of course the main thing is the library and all the books and stuff* inside it, but I do think a good pair of scissors makes all the difference too: a memorable pair of scissor, be they GOLD or be they HUGE. I will, of course, report back…
[*a technical librarian's term.]
Last year was a busy year. A CRAZILY busy year. Quite apart from all the writing I’ve been doing — and more on that another day — I seem to have been out and about far more than I originally intended. For that reason, I’ll be posting a gallery of pictures from 2011 in the not to distant future. In the meantime, here’s a statue of a goat.
Just before Christmas, I had a most enjoyable day doing writing workshops for children at The British Museum.
You can find out what the organiser, Faye, had to think about it here: http://fayenicole.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/philip-ardagh-at-the-british-museum/
And you can read the stories here: http://objectsofmystery.wordpress.com/
Don’t be put off by the first photo… it’s of ME.
1. Charles Dickens’s nearest Rochester neighbour, Miss Carol Christmas, was inspiration for the book David Copperfield.
2. The time signal pips were named after Pip, hero of Great Expectations, by Guglielmo Marconi, a huge Dickens fan.
3. Charles Dickens gave his initials (CD) to the CD (a plastic, circular recording medium ), but then asked for them back
4. David Copperfield’s initials are Charles Dickens’s initials backwards. This was because Dickens used mirror writing
5. Bleak House was originally called Cosy Corner until someone went a nicked all the soft furnishings.
6. It was during his time at 221b Baker Street that Charles Dickens solved the mystery of Edwin Drood.
7. In his first draft of ‘Oliver Twist’, Charles Dickens called the protagonist Oliver Kinky.
8. During reading tours of America, Charles Dickens would often walk about town disguised as a red herring.
9. Charles Dickens was buried in Poets’ Corner 3 years before his death, so that he could fully enjoy the privilege.
10. In his first draft of ‘Oliver Twist’, Charles Dickens called the protagonist Oliver Kinky.
11.Charles Dickens was named after a street in Rochester.
12. Dickens’s unfinished work, about a renaissance fish, was later complete by Dan Brown (who added the e). #TheDaVinciCod #e
Ha! There were eleven lies not ten. I was lying about that too.
Quite extraordinary! Just about every Christmas card I’ve received so far this year is of the same design. It must be wildly popular or something…
I am an author. I don’t know how to drive a car. I have no interest in watching or playing any sport. I’m not very good with my hands and my beard prevents me from operating heavy machinery, even when sober or not on medication. I neither like dancing nor loud music. I have never watched The X-Factor, Pop Idol, Britain’s Got Talent, Strictly Ballroom or anything with music by or featuring Andrew Lloyd Webber. But I love books. I love reading books. I love discussing books. I love writing books. I love the feel of them. I love the smell of them. But, most importantly, I love where they take me when I read them.
I am very fortunate to have grown up in a house full of books, where both my mother and father read avidly, and we went to the local library. For less well-off families, school and the library are sometimes the only real source of books, but what a source. A well-stocked library with a good librarian is a gateway to EVERYTHING. Of course, not every child takes to reading but it offers possibilities. Options. Choices. Should anyone have the right to snatch those possibilities away? To pull the rug out from under a child’s feet before s/he’s even had the chance?
And do you know what? I started this intending it to be a funny piece, with the punchline that libraries are so important because they sometime employ unemployable people such as myself as highly unqualified library assistants (or, at least, they did back in the 1980s) … but, instead, it’s turned into this impassioned plea.
LIBRARIES MATTER. HELPING TO STOP LIBRARY CLOSURES MATTERS. As for Mr Spock with a goatee beard? That has something to do with ANTIMATTER, but there’s no room for that here. We all have to act NOW before it’s too late, so what are you waiting for?
[I also posted this blog entry on my Facebook page and the response has been fantastsic.]
Woah? What happened? The previous entry in this “not-to-be-missed blog” was on 30th September and today it’s 30th November which means that it’s– excuse me while I take off my shoes and socks to use my toes to help with my counting, as usual — yup, it’s — er — TWO MONTHS since I last wrote an entry.
So let’s have a whirlwind look at what I’ve been up to in the intervening 60 days. (And if you don’t know what ‘intervening’ means, I suggest you feed the goldfish. No, sorry, ‘then I suggest you feed the goldfish’ is in response to ‘If you haven’t fed the goldfish’. The correct response to ‘If you don’t know what intervening means’ is ‘then I suggest you look it up’. Now where did I put that goldfish food?)
1st - 3rd October
WIGGY, WIGGY, WIGTOWN!
Last year I visited wonderful Wigtown up in Scotland as part of the Wigtown Book Festival and this year I was at it again. Last year, I stayed in a small but perfectly formed B&B. This year I stayed in a lovely, lovely hotel. It was lovely, okay? The room was lovely. The grounds were lovely. The food was LOVELY (with a capital L-O-V-E-L-Y) and the taxi ride to the festival site was very nice too. The weather wasn’t so great. One of the festival marquees had blown down the night before but it was only a small one (so that’s all right, then)! I did one GRUBTOWN TALES event for children — the lucky things — and, the following morning, one for adults about writing for children. What was also lovely — have I used that word before? — was the opportunity to meet some writers I’d not met before, and even to go to their events. These included Andrew Lane, author of the Young Sherlock Holmes books and poet XXXXXXX. (Her name has been temporarily deleted for legal reasons.) There really is something very special about this Scottish book town, its booksellers and, of course, the lovely festival folk.
DULWICH PREP SCHOOL, NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH…
After a long journey home from Scotland the previous day, it was off to Dulwich Prep School in Kent, not to be confused with Dulwich College Prep School (which is in Dulwich). Dulwich Prep School used to be called Dulwich College Prep School when Dulwich College Prep School was evacuated from Dulwich to Kent during the war to escape from the bombing. It was so popular, that the school stayed in Kent…. but then, also, reopened in Dulwich… and they couldn’t have TWO Dulwich College Prep Schools, one in Dulwich, one in Kent. So the Dulwich College Prep School which had started off in Dulwich then opened in Kent was renamed Dulwich Prep School (without the College) which should be as clear a soup. Good.
Anyway, I was there to do an event for the whole school (talking EDDIE DICKENS, GRUBTOWN TALES UNLIKELY EXPLOITS and non-fiction too), followed by a mass signing, mainly of books, but also of passing wilderbeast. I may have imagined that last part but you can’t blame me because just about every single pupil and teacher was dressed as a character from a book… and some of the costumes were UTTERLY FANTASTIC. As was my event, of course. I’d previously appeared there almost seven years ago, so here’s hoping they’ll ask me back in another seven years or so!
STARLIT FESTIVAL., MUD-TASTIC FUN!
With barely enough time for a quick bath and a change of beard, it was off to Shoreditch in London — no, it hadn’t been evacuated to Kent — for two more GRUBTOWN TALES events at The Starlit Festival. All events (except special school events) took place in tents in the middle of a (very muddy) square. It’s a fantastic location but, with all that squelshing around in mud, it had the real feel of a miniature music festival. Once again, the audiences were enthusiastic and rumbustious, and it was good to see fellow author Saviour Pittora WHO HAS REALLY BIG MUSCLES so, even if it wasn’t nice to see him, I wouldn’t admit it here… but he is really nice. HONESTLY.
CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL OF LITERATURE, AND A BOX OF GO-CAT
Last year, I helped celebrate 60 years of the Cheltenham Festival by running six workshops with six different schools, culminating in a one-and-a-half hour event in the town hall with the local MP and mayor, plus a GRUBTOWN TALES event. This year, I limited myself to a more modest one-off appearance in THE HENRY’S HOUSE ROADSHOW. Boy, it was fun! With trusty Catherine from Scholastic as one of my assistance and Unsuspecting Festival Volunteer as the other, a good time was had by all. It was a nightmare journey, with train delays, acts of God and arguments with Mother Nature, but I made it! (After the event, one of the booksellers came up to me and asked, “Where you really eating cat food?” Enough said.)
CARNEGIE EVENT, CORESHAM LIBRARY, AND SANDWICHES
I’m not altogether sure how the creation of the Carnegie longlist actually works, but I think librarians the length and breadth of Britain vote for their favourites and send their results to Carnegie HQ where the results are collated and from which, at a later date, a series of judges choose a shortlist and then an eventual winner. Whatever the final details, I was guest of a very friendly bunch of Wiltshire librarians during their voting process. Between books discussions, voting and tea and biscuits, I got to talk about ME and everyone laughed when the should — with me rather than at me — so I was very happy. Particularly when they gave me a sandwich too. There was a group of children there too, so it was good to here what they had to say about books as I chomped away.
NATIONAL NON-FICTION DAY, DUDLEY, YIPPEEEE!
It was a round trip to Dudley — via London and Birmingham New Street — to celebrate the very fist National Non-Fiction Day with a special edition of THE HENRY’S HOUSE ROADSHOW with the able assistance of Steven and Corrine from the publishers, Scholastic. Steven has been lucky enough to be my assistant on one previous occasion (at the Oxford Children’s Book Festival) but was a first for Corrine (whose name is probably actually spelled ‘Corinne’ but I’m not sure, and I doubt she’ll ever read this) and, despite being in editorial rather than the Paid To Be Nice To The Author Department, she was a natural.
There was an audience of a fraction under 300 children and the event was organised by Ross Barlett — who does so much for the Federation of Children’s Book Groups — that there’s little wonder that it was a success. How could it fail? I was as marvellous as ever. (Which is VERY marvellous, in case you’ve never been lucky enough to see me.)
16th - 17th November
TWO BOOK AWARD CEREMONIES, CHRISTMAS SHOPPING, AND TV
In between all my events, and writing my own books, of course, this year I’ve been a judge on two children’s book awards so have been frantically reading my way through around 140 books in total. Today so the announcement of the winner of the Young Minds Book Award. After a very powerful performance from the Chickenshed Theatre Company, the award was given to Siobhan Curham for DEAR DYLAN. Congratulations to her. It’s well worth a read.
Whilst I was up in London for the award ceremony, I decided to get some Christmas shopping done in the big London stores (because, with an up-coming big foot operation — yes, the foot AND the operation would both be BIG — I knew I’d be in plaster throughout December and January). It was while studying Christmas puddings that I had a phone call from the Booktrust asking If I’d mind being on DAYBREAK on ITV 1 the following morning to talk the Roald Dahl Funny Prize. This would mean staying overnight in London… which meant their sending a motorbike to my home to pick up my pyjamas, teddy bear, toothbrush, piano, etc. and taking it to my London hotel.
I could have asked Ricketts to drive it down in the Bentley but, at the time, I was conducting research to see how long an elderly man could survive without food and water buried in a coffin, so he was unavailable. Everything went to plan and, the following morning, I was picked up just after 6.00 and driven to the studio. I then did three links “live from the green room” (where i was reading books to two young children) and then did a quick interview with Adrian Chiles and Christine Bleakly on the sofa.
By a weird stroke of fate, the show was reviewed in THE TIMES the following morning, where they mentioned: ”... a woman who had lost 15 stone, the wittily bearded children’s author Philip Ardagh, a homunculus rapper named Tinchy Stryder, the Pet Shop Boys, and Rachel Johnson of The Lady…” My beard, I can assure you, was delighted.
Later that day, it was back to the Unicorn Theatre, this time for the announcement of this year’s winner of the Roald Dahl Funny Prize, with much mirth and entertainment from chair of the judges (and prize founder) Michael Rosen. And the winner was: Louise Yates for DOG LOVES BOOKS, and Louise Rennison for WITHERING TIGHTS. What a day!
I got home tired and late, in time to have Toto dig up Ricketts to check that he was still breathing, and to have him make my evening cocoa.
SCBWI or not SCBWI, that is the question?
Today I was guest author on the UK web forum of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, answering a whole variety of questions about how I write. You’ll find an edited version on the ‘notes from the slushpile’ website written by Candy Gourlay, author of TALL STORY, which is a very special book and well worth a read. But, hey, this is supposed to be about me: http://notesfromtheslushpile.blogspot.com/2010/11/his-royal-beardship-philip-ardagh.html
Regular readers of this blog will know that I’ve been working on an exciting secret TV project with Ragdoll — the makers of In The NightGarden and The Teletubbies — and I hope to be able to reveal all early next year. In the meantime, I’ve been approached by ANOTHER tv company to help develop a possible new non-fiction children’s TV series, and this was my first meeting with them. Interesting stuff!
A WALKING MIRACLE!
For almost a year now, I’ve been hobbling around with the aid of a walking stick. Things haven’t been so bad since I LOST OVER 5 STONE since the beginning of January putting less weight on my bad foot, but it was agreed months ago that I’d need ”an FDL transfer and calcaneal osteotomy” — major reconstructive surgery including the removal, harvesting and replacing of tendons in my left foot — after which I was to expect pain, six weeks in plaster and around nine months to get full mobility again… only IT DIDN’T HAPPEN. I arrived at the hospital, my overnight bag packed and my bed booked. The consultant surgeon even had the big magic-marker pen in his hand ready to mark my left foot (so they didn’t operate on my right one by mistake), and he couldn’t believe his eyes. “Are you sure this is the same foot?” he asked. I AM A WALKING MIRACLE. No six weeks in plaster. No pain, pain, pain over Christmas! I was so pleased, I let Toto my houseboy hold onto the door-handle as he jogged alongside the Bentley on the way home. (I don’t usually allow it because of the fingerprints.)
And that, I think, is about that. You can read about my being a judge for the Roald Dahl Funny Prize in an article I wrote for The Guardian at http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/nov/13/roald-dahl-prize-philip-ardagh You’ll find my top ten favourite Roald Dahl books at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/sep/13/top-10-roald-dahl-children-books
I’ve just had a quick look at September’s entry and actually read it this time. Next, I had a look at August’s. There’s no mention of my time at the Bath Festival. No mention of the Edinburgh Festival. No mention of all that incredibly dangerous stuff I do for charity (which I don’t like to brag about). ARGH! Oh well, I need to get back to writing PHILIP ARDAGH’S BOOK OF KINGS, QUEEN, EMPERORS AND OTHER RAVING LUNATICS, so I’ll have to let sleeping dogs lie, dopey cats tell the truth and angry rhinos do EXACTLY as they please.
Hello again! The name ‘Roald Dahl’ has very much been on my mind lately because I’ve:
been judging the Roald Dahl Funny Prize. (We now have a fantastically funny shortlist which you can find at: http://www.booktrust.org.uk/show/feature/Home/Roald-Dahl-Funny-Prize-2010 .
appearing on stage with Michael Rosen and others at the National Theatre to celebrate the prize and Roald Dahl Day.
offering my top ten favourite Roald Dahl books for The Guardian (which you’ll find at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/sep/13/top-10-roald-dahl-children-books).
I have a copy of the script used for the National Theatre event, signed by all of us who appeared on the Oliver stage: me, former children’s laureate Michael Rosen, comedian Shappi Khorsandi, and actors Adrian Scarborough and Alison Steadman. I’ll be auctioning it for Children in Need sometime in October, along with some other goodies, so be sure keep an eye on the blog.
Yup, those of you smart enough and awake enough — and interested enough, come to that — may have spotted that there are NO JOURNAL ENTRIES for July 2010. Is that because I didn’t do anything in July? No, no, no, I say. And no again. Far from it. I did LOADS OF STUFF in July, quite apart from eating, sleeping and keeping my beard entertained. (Did you know that you can now buy board games designed specifically for you and your beard? No, neither did I. Perhaps you can’t. I would say that I might have dreamed it, but there’s no time for sleeping in my busy, busy, busy regime.)
I also got out and about at the end of June, which isn’t mentioned in this blog either. (What a DISGRACE. Who can I blame? You, yes, you: the tall bearded chap at the back with the idiot grin. It’s all YOUR fault. No… Hang on. That’s my own reflection in the shiny foil of a giant Kitkat wrapper. I hardly recognised myself having lost OVER FIVE STONE — yes, stone not pounds — since January.
Now, where was I? Oh yes, at that end of June I took the Henry’s House Roadshow to Borders Book Festival in Scotland where we tried out a brand new medieval guess-who’s-more-important quiz, involving fake swords, a crown, a (fake) horse’s head and a loo brush, then I visited eight schools in three days in beautiful Pembrokeshire where I was made EXTAORDINARILY welcome and was put up in an attractive log cabin just three minutes from the sea (or less than one minute if there was a REALLY BIG WAVE).
I’ve also been writing Grubtown Tales Book Seven… but more on that later.
Ps. Wooooah!!! These photos are all over the place, aren’t they? I must be out of practice! Hey! Ho! (NOTE TO SELF: Must blog more often.)