I was walking in the New Forest last weekend and came across this donkey. He was looking rather gloomy, as donkeys often do. It was raining, and had been all day, so his hair must have been soaked, and his raised ears and long face gave him an expression of profound pessimism.
Cheer up, I wanted to say. At least you’re not in Morocco. Don’t you know how they treat donkeys there?
There’s a Moroccan donkey in my new book – as you’d probably guess from the title – and I remember looking at donkeys in Marrakech and feeling deeply sorry for them.
Wandering through the narrow streets, I’d often come across a donkey standing against a wall, waiting patiently for his owner. Some were tied to drainpipes or lampposts. Others were strapped to carts stacked with bricks or lanterns or rubbish. Their legs were covered with old bruises and half-healed sores. Their fur had the texture of a moth-eaten carpet.
When I was writing the book, I was sent this picture by a friend of mine, Richard Hammond, the travel journalist. (Not the driver.)
He took it in Marrakech. It’s on the wall of a donkey sanctuary. I didn’t go there myself, but I hope I will one day.
A wonderful piece of news for the New Year – the last dancing bear in India has been rescued.
When I was researching Bearkeeper, I went to Agra to see the work of Wildlife SOS. It was a fascinating and inspiring experience.
To mark the rescue of the final bear, the BBC has made a documentary about the bears and the work of a British charity, International Animal Rescue, and their Indian partners, Wildlife SOS, who have built sanctuaries to house the freed bears.
Be warned: this documentary contains some horrible footage of bears being abused by their “owners”.
If you don’t want to watch the footage, you can find out more about Wildlife SOS and their British partner, International Animal Rescue, by following these links:
I’ve just reviewed a novel set in Latin America, Daniel Finn’s Two Good Thieves. The book is set in an unnamed country, not quite Brazil or Argentina or Venezuela or Mexico, but a mixture of them all. Mal Peet has done the same thing with his Paul Faustino novels, Penalty, Keeper and Exposure.
I wonder whether Latin American writers are producing their own children’s books set in their own countries. If so, when will they be translated into English?
To brush away those wintery blues, here is a picture of Grk nestling between two coconuts on a Brazilian beach named Imbassaí. Many thanks to Nigel for the photo.
(If you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, of course, you’ll be enjoying the spring right now. But here in the north, the nights are long, the days are short and it’s getting colder every day.)
I went to Belfast last week and took part in the kids lit quiz, which was a fabulous occasion, hosted by Wellington College and compered by Wayne Mills, the energetic New Zealander who created the quiz and now darts around the globe from his home in Auckland to heats in far-flung countries, wearing his inimitable hat.
I was baffled by most of the questions. (I can’t remember many, but Wayne has posted some previous questions on his website.) Luckily, I was on a team with Tanja Jennings, the librarian at Wellington, who has an astonishing knowledge of children’s books past and present.
In the end, a nerve-racking tiebreak was won by Wellington, who will travel to England to participate in the final in Oxford on 27th November.
After the quiz, I stayed in Belfast for a couple more days and went to four more schools – Thompson, Kells & Connor, St Paul’s and St Bernard’s – many thanks to everyone who organised the visits and came along to hear me speak.
I’ve always wanted to go to Istanbul. I was planning to go there this autumn, in fact, and read a lovely little book to prepare myself: The Bridge by Geert Mak.
He’s a Dutch journalist who spent some time – weeks? months? – hanging around the Galata Bridge in Istanbul. If he’d been a clumsier writer, he could have turned the book into a heavy-handed discussion of the bridge’s symbolic position between West and East, Europe and Asia. Instead, he describes the scene and the locals with a wonderfully light touch. One day, I’m going to see it for myself. One day…
I remembered The Bridge this week, because I was sent a copy of one of my books in a language that I couldn’t recognise, let alone understand. I had to open the title page even to discover that it was a Turkish translation. The thought of Grk in Istanbul made me want to jump on a plane and go there myself.
Here are the Turkish editions of A Dog Called Grk…
In last Saturday’s Guardian, I reviewed Scat, Carl Hiaassen’s latest book for children.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal condemned Hiaasen for polluting young minds with ecological propaganda. In Scat, he even points his readers towards Edward Abbey’s classic novel of eco-terrorism, The Monkey Wrench Gang. (I’d be fascinated to know if any of them actually read it; Scat’s teenage protagonist does track down a copy, but falls asleep after a few pages.) Whatever your political alignment, you’ll find nothing dreary or didactic about Hiaasen’s writing; Scat is a funny and furiously fast-moving novel populated by engaging characters and fuelled by a strong sense of moral outrage.
You can read the full review here.
Publishing a book often feels like throwing a stone into a pond: there’s a little splash, a few ripples, and then it’s gone. If you’re lucky, the splash will be reviews and even a prize. Perhaps the ripples will include some letters from readers or visits to festivals. And then… nothing.
But books have a life of their own. Long after the book has been published – sunk to the bottom of a pond, languishing among the weeds, forgotten – someone will read it. They’ll find a lone copy languishing on a dusty shelf in a library. And, once again, your words will come alive.
I recently got an email from a friend, a composer. Many years ago, she asked me to write some words to accompany her music. Two actors recorded the words. The piece was performed. And that was that.
Now, she wrote to me to announce, it has been performed again at a festival in Toronto.
The fate of these words – written and recorded so long ago that I can hardly remember anything about them – made me feel enormously optimistic. It was as if this particular stone’s ripples had bounced back and forth across the pond, never fading, never disappearing, continuing for years.
If you’re interested, here is some information about Juliet, who wrote the music, and here’s an intriguing picture on a flickr page of someone who went to the festival.
…come to one of my events at the Central Library. Several writers are appearing – and all the events are free!
(Click the picture to make it bigger.)
I’ve just come back from a fantastic day in Winchester, where I talked to a hundred and fifty children from several schools in the city. Many thanks to everyone who came along – I hope you had fun – and to P&G Wells, the excellent independent bookshop, who organised the event.
Earlier in the summer, I had a fantastic few days at the Edinburgh festival. I did three events, which were great fun, but only managed to see one; the extraordinary exploits of the Gruffalo, performed by Julia Donaldson, Axel Scheffler and a large cast of their friends and relatives: a joyous hour of songs, sketches and costumes.
Over the next few months, I’m going to be visiting schools and libraries in London, Belfast, Andover, Walsall and as many other places as possible. See you there? And if you’d like me to visit your bookshop, library or school, please get in touch.
I’ve just reviewed Alison Gopnik’s fascinating and provocative book, The Philosophical Baby, for the Guardian. Here’s the first paragraph…
Like any proud father of a small baby, I seem to spend half my life staring into her eyes, wondering what she’s thinking and feeling, trying to imagine how she experiences the world. Until fairly recently, scientists and philosophers would have told me that the answer was simple: I might as well stare at a pigeon, because babies are no more intelligent or profound than the dumbest animal. But, as Alison Gopnik explains in her inspiring new book, “there’s been a revolution in our scientific understanding of babies” and we now know that, in many ways, “young children are actually smarter, more imaginative, more caring and even more conscious than adults”.
You can read the full review here.