Meeting my literary heroes at the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival

When the programme for the Auckland Writers and Readers Festival was announced I got quite excited.  There were not one, but two of my favourite authors and literary heroes coming to Auckland – Patrick Ness and Carlos Ruiz Zafon.  I was barely able to control my excitement when I went to their sessions, but I sat in the audience captivated by them and learnt a lot about their writing and their books.  Like all author groupies I was one of the first in line afterwards to get my books signed and thank them profusely for coming all the way to New Zealand.

For those who are interested here’s a taster of what Patrick and Carlos discussed in their sessions.

An Hour with Patrick Ness

Patrick started with a reading from his latest adult book, The Crane Wife (I loved this book and highly recommend it if you’re looking for a magical and eerie adult book).  When it comes to stories, Patrick says that ‘ideas attract other ideas,’ and The Crane Wife came from several ideas.  It’s partly a retelling of the Japanese myth, there are some autobiographical details, and there is a big theme of stories and storytelling.  The main character in The Crane Wife, George, is a ‘kind’ man, and Patrick also wanted to look at what happens to the kind man when he’s lonely.  He wanted to write a compelling ‘good’ character, so he had to figure out what would make George greedy.  Apparently Amanda, George’s daughter in the book, is the closest character to Patrick.  She has a habit of saying the wrong things at the wrong time and is terrible in social situations, which Patrick says he can certainly relate to.

Patrick often has theme songs to his books.  One of his favourite bands, The Decemberists, wrote a song called The Crane Wife 1 and 2, which Patrick feels captures the mood of his book perfectly.  Here are some of his other theme songs:

  • Early One Morning by Jim Moray and Map of the Problematique by Muse – The Knife of Never Letting Go
  • Mercy Street by Peter Gabriel – A Monster Calls
  • More Than This by Peter Gabriel – More Than This (his new YA novel coming in September)

I had to listen to these as soon as I got home and I can really see how these fit with the tone and mood of Patrick’s stories.

Patrick said that he is ‘never afraid to leave the reader wanting more’ and that is one of the things I love about his books, especially the Chaos Walking Trilogy.

I didn’t think I could like Patrick even more than I already did, but one of his answers to an audience question proved me wrong – ‘Books don’t need to do anything. They just need to tell stories.’  I know I don’t go looking for a particular meaning in the books I read, I just read them because they’re good stories.

An Hour with Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I never thought I would get the chance to hear Carlos Ruiz Zafon speak and meet him in person so this session was a highlight of my life.

Carlos always wanted to tell the Cemetery of Forgotten Books cycle in four books.  He wanted to create a labyrinth that could be entered through any door, and your perception would be different depending on which story you started with.  You could then read the cycle years later and re-enter the labyrinth again in a different direction.  When Carlos said that the labyrinth will twist in the fourth book I got this overwhelming sense of excitement and had this huge grin on my face.  If I loved the first three books so much I have no idea how amazing the fourth and final one will be!

When Carlos told the audience about his writing process there was a collective gasp.  Many authors have sticky notes and flow charts but anything that Carlos can’t hold in his head is dropped.  If this happens it’s usually not a good idea anyway.  He never saves drafts or materials after he’s finished a story.  He believes that it’s his homework and people shouldn’t read it.  There is no paper or digital trail of his work after he has finished a story.

Carlos doesn’t believe that it is his job as a writer to tell people what they should think.  He uses his skills in setting the stage, writing lines, applying makeup and putting on the costumes, and he takes the reader ‘into the theatre of their mind.’ He also uses dramatic devices to incorporate his research and morals into his stories and he believes the reader will decode these subconsciously.

All of Carlos’ stories are set in the past and he explained that this is because it ‘allows the storyteller to objectify elements.’  He can remove noise (cellphones, the internet) by setting a story in the past.  Carlos has always had a personal fascination with the time period after the industrial revolution, as ‘human beings had been in the dark for so long and they finally had a chance to get things right.’

I’m a huge fan of Carlos’ Young Adult novels and I was glad that he talked about these.  He said that these books (Prince of Mist, The Midnight Palace, The Watcher in the Shadows, and the soon to be published Marina) were an experiment.  Carlos didn’t feel that he had much to offer the YA genre, that he was just entertaining the teenagers, but he hoped that through writing these stories he was communicating the pleasure of reading to them.  He obviously had something right as they have sold millions of copies, both in Spain and the rest of the world.

Carlos finished by saying that his Cemetery of Forgotten Books cycle is ultimately about ‘language, books and storytelling,’ and that he ‘writes for people who love to read.’  I certainly hope that he continues to write for many, many years.

Me and Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Me and Carlos Ruiz Zafon

My Christchurch Writer’s Festival Experience

Thanks to my wonderful library, Christchurch City Libraries, I was lucky enough to attend some great sessions at the Christchurch Writer’s Festival at the weekend.  We’ve all been waiting for the festival to be held in Christchurch for 4 years so it was great to see it go ahead this year.  And what a festival it was!

The sessions that I attended related more to writing for children and teens, so I got to meet local authors Kate De Goldi and Jane Higgins, and international authors John Boyne and Joanne Harris.  My highlights were interviewing one of my favourite authors, John Boyne, and the Why YA? panel on Sunday.  I was blogging like crazy all weekend on the Christchurch City Libraries blog, so for those who couldn’t be there you can read my festival reports and interviews here:

I’m running two giveaways of books I got signed at the festival too if you’d like to enter:

Interview with Phoenix Files author Chris Morphew

Chris Morphew is the author of the action-packed Phoenix Files series, about a group of teenagers who have 100 days to stop the world from ending, and he’s also one of the authors who write the Zac Power series (under the name H I Larry)  .  I got the chance to ask Chris a few questions when he came to Christchurch last year.

What is it like to be one of the authors of the Zac Power series?

It’s pretty cool! Whenever I visit a school and ask how many kids have read a Zac Power book, I’m always amazed at how many hands go up!

What’s your favourite Zac Power gadget?

I think Zac’s Turbo Boots in Volcanic Panic are pretty awesome. Jetpack shoes powerful enough to blast someone out of a volcano? That sounds pretty good to me!

Zac Power books written by Chris Morphew

What inspired you to write your action-packed Phoenix Files series?

This might sound a bit morbid, but one of the biggest things I want to do with The Phoenix Files is tell a story about hardship and suffering. I want to be really honest about the darkness and brokenness of the world. But I don’t want to stop there. I want to suggest that the darkness and the brokenness isn’t all there is, and that maybe there’s a bigger story being told that makes the bad parts worthwhile in the end.

In The Phoenix Files Luke, Peter and Jordan learn that there is only 100 days until the end of the world. What would you do if you knew you only had 100 days left to live?

I would pray a lot. And then maybe see if I could find a super-powered homeless man to tell me what was really going on.

What was the book you loved most as a child?

That’s a tough one! There are so many!
Fiction: The Narnia series, Animorphs, Where the Wild Things Are…
Non-fiction: The Bible and books about dinosaurs.

Who is your favourite author/children’s author?

It’s a toss-up between C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling.

Why did you want to be a writer?

Because I love telling stories! I think fictional stories have incredible power to help us understand the real world in new ways.

What’s the best thing and worst thing about being a writer?

The best thing is having the opportunity to explore interesting ideas. The worst thing is usually my next deadline. I write pretty slowly, and sometimes it’s hard to keep up!

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Write about things that matter. If you care about your story, then other people are far more likely to care about it too.

The fifth book in The Phoenix Files, Fallout, is out now.  If you haven’t read this amazing series, grab a copy of the first book, Arrival.

Discover what the Scottish Book Trust has to offer

Beth Bottery from the Scottish Book Trust wrote this wonderful post about the promotions and events that they offer, even to children and teens in New Zealand.  Be sure to check out their brilliant site.

No matter where in the world you’re based or what kind of books you’re interested in, Scottish Book Trust has something for you to get involved with. Based in Edinburgh, Scottish Book Trust is the leading agency for the promotion of literature, reading and writing in Scotland. Our Children’s Programme also run several projects which can be enjoyed by children, and adults, all over the world. You can find details of just a few of these below. Our website is a great resource, full of writing advice, book recommendations, author interviews, blogs and loads more

Authors Live

A series of fantastic of children’s and teen’s authors events which are broadcast live online to schools in the UK via the BBC. These events then become available to watch again for free a week later for people around the rest of the world. They feature a stellar line-up including Michael Rosen, Charlie Higson, David Almond, Jacqueline Wilson, Liz Lochhead and many more and you can download them from our website for free. Details of the next event are below. All events come with free classroom resources.

  • Francesca Simon (Horrid Henry) – World Book Day 1st March 2012

You can find further information about these and future online events on our website Keep an eye out for information about our next programme of live events by following the same link.

Virtual Writers in Residence

We have brilliant Creative Writing videos and tasks from top teen authors Keith Gray and Cathy Forde. Keith looks closely at several aspects of the writing process and Cathy has a series of creative writing tasks for budding writers to use in developing their skills. .

The Blog

Every week we have new blog entries from authors and illustrators, booksellers, publishers and Scottish Book Trust staff. It’s a great place to find out about what’s going on at Scottish Book Trust and in the world of books more generally. We have several regular blogs aimed at young people, learning professionals and parents. You can find out more by following this link:

Teen Hit List

We regularly put together hit lists of some of the best teen books around. These often feature a theme and are a great way of getting your pupils reading new and different fiction, our latest one is all about understanding mental health:


We are always on the lookout for reviews of what you have read recently, whether you loved it, hated it, would recommend it or warn everyone against it. Email your book reviews to and we will put the best ones on the website. You can read past reviews by following this link:

Join Scotland’s National Poet Liz Lochhead to celebrate Robert Burns

Thanks to Beth from the Scottish Book Trust for giving me this heads up.

Scotland’s National Poet Liz Lochhead is to give a live broadcast to children across Scotland during a special Robert Burns celebration on Thursday 26 January at 11am. The Scottish Friendly Meet Our Authors Special Event, run by Scottish Book Trust, will be streamed live from BBC Scotland in Glasgow and available after to watch again for free from the Scottish Book Trust website. The broadcast will be most suited to children from P6 – S4 (9-16 year olds) and any fan of Scottish poetry.

You can join over 10,000 pupils across the UK watching the event live by following this link:   Alternatively, the event can be downloaded or streamed from next Thursday following the same link.
The event will be free to watch again after 2nd February on our website and clips of the event will be available on our Meet Our Authors YouTube channel around the same time.
You can go to to submit a question. Please bear in mind that many thousands of children will be watching and will have submitted questions. Please don’t be too disappointed if your question doesn’t get asked.
Liz will be celebrating the poetry of Burn’s as well as reading her own work. We’re sure this event is going to be really inspirational as no-one can make Burns come to life like Liz can.

Scottish Book Trust do loads of events like this every year: their previous events have featured authors such as Michael Rosen, Michael Morpurgo, Julia Donaldson, Eoin Colfer, Jacqueline Wilson, David Almond and many more. You can stream or download any of these events for free here:


The Exquisite Corpse Adventure

What happens when some of the coolest children’s book authors and illustrators play a writing game that starts with one person’s ideas and ends with a novel of 27 episodes?  You get The Exquisite Corpse Adventure.  The title makes it sound like it should be a horror story, but it’s actually a weird, crazy, funny, out-of-control story put together by some of the coolest authors around.  If you’ve read or participated in the FaBo story that Kyle Mewburn started, The Exquisite Corpse is the same idea.

The story starts with twins Nancy and Joe escaping from the circus, where they have lived since they were babies.  With the help of different clues, Nancy and Joe search to piece together the Exquisite Corpse and find their parents.  Each chapter is written by a different author, so just when you think you know what’s going to happen next, the story can go off in a completely different direction.  The story is a little bit like Alice in Wonderland and The Phantom Tollbooth because they meet lots of weird and wonderful characters and get into some tricky situations.  The first chapter hooks you in by imagining what could happen in the rest of the story:

“…there is a good chance that Nancy and Joe will have to deal with werewolves and mad scientists, real ninjas and fake vampires, one roller-skating baby, a talking pig, creatures from another planet…plenty of explosions, a monkey disguised as a pirate, two meatballs…and not just one bad guy but a whole army of villains.”

Pick up The Exquisite Corpse Adventure if you dare and be prepared to be taken on a wild ride.