The Bookworm is a small chain of bookshops in cities throughout China, run by a wildly energetic expat named Peter Goff. This year was the 10th that he and the other bookshop managers have been running a wonderful festival, bringing local and international authors together.
Rather than writing about my experiences, I’m simply going to put a few photos here, along with some explanatory captions. I’ll put up some photos from Beijing another day, but all the photos below are from Chengdu, my first stop, where I did several events: some talks, a school visit, and a workshop.
Chengdu is a city of about ten million people. It’s the capital of the Sichuan province, renowned for its magnificently spicy food. And it’s famous too for its pandas; Chengdu is home to the Giant Panda Research Centre, where you can watch families of pandas lounging about their pens, happily crunching their way through great piles of bamboo.
This year I was lucky enough to be one of the judges for the Mighty Nose Awards, along with Richard E Grant, actor and perfumier, and Nicky Cox, editor of First News.
I’ve judged several writing competitions, but this one was particularly enjoyable, because all the entries were focused on smell. During the judging process, we three judges were asked to award points for “originality; quality of writing; and lively depiction of smells”.
You can read more about the awards on the Marty the Mighty website – http://www.martythemightynose.org/ – and find out how to enter the 2017 awards. Anyone aged between 7 and 11 can enter, and the closing date is the end of this year.
Here’s a short film which shows the judging process and features the judges reading some of winning poems:
I’ve done several events around the country over the past few weeks, both in schools and libraries, some alone, others with Garry Parsons. Here are a few photos:
The two Grk covers and the Dragonsitter collage are drawn by children at Elson Primary in Gosport, where I spent World Book Day. The entire school – staff and pupils – were in costume, most of them dressed either as Grk or a dragon. It was wonderful.
I’ve always loved maps in books. Until now, only one of my own has had a map, and that was Bearkeeper. On the first page was a map of London in 1601, showing the locations of the Globe, the Bear Gardens, London Bridge, and a few other important places mentioned in the text.
The sixth Dragonsitter is also set in London, which gave me an excuse to ask my publishers to put a map in the front of that book too. I was delighted when they said yes, and Garry Parsons has drawn this lovely map:
Looking at these two maps side by side, you can see that in many ways London hasn’t changed very much over the past four hundred years. There is the river, and there is London Bridge, and there are the main roads spinning out of the centre and heading in every direction, bringing visitors in and out of the city.
Of course Shakespeare didn’t have the Shard, the London Eye, the Natural History Museum, or many of the locations featured in The Dragonsitter to the Rescue. But I like to imagine that he would have been able to find his way around the modern city fairly easily by sticking to the river and spotting a few landmarks which have survived the past four centuries.
The sixth Dragonsitter will be published in the UK at the beginning of January.
I had a lot of fun writing this book, which is set in London, my home town.
In the story, Eddie and Emily come to the Big Smoke to stay with their father in a hotel. He thought he was just taking his two children to London for a special treat; he hadn’t expected them to bring the two dragons.
On a trip to the Natural History Museum, Arthur slips away from the others and disappears into the city.
The rest of the story describes how Eddie and Emily get him back again. They travel around London, searching the parks, the museums, the monuments, the restaurants, and the streets, until they eventually find him in…
Oh, no, of course I’m not going to tell you that. You’ll have to read the book to find out where Arthur has been hiding, and how he spent his time in the city.
A few days ago I got an email from a reader named Nico:
Hi Josh I really like your Grk series and I would be really EXCITED about more!
I wrote back to him, but my reply bounced. If you’re Nico, please do write to me again, but give me your correct email address this time.
I’ll answer Nico’s question here anyway. As you’ll know if you have read the Grk books, each of them is set in a different country. I had a dream that Grk might travel to every country in the world, although that would mean writing 196 books. And perhaps he would travel to the moon too, like his fictional ancestor Snowy, bringing the total up to 197.
But at the moment, my time is taken up with the Dragonsitter instead, so I don’t know when, or if, I will ever return to the further adventures of Tim, Grk, Max and Natascha.
This week I was invited to open a new school library. For any writer, or indeed anyone involved with books and storytelling, I can’t think of many more satisfying ways to spend an afternoon.
The school was Furness Primary in what used to be called Harlesden and is now probably part of Kensal Rise. Whatever you choose to call this particular area, it’s part of Brent, where the council has closed several libraries recently. So it was especially gratifying to witness the opening of a new library inside a school.
Before I cut the ribbon on the library, I did a couple of assemblies, first talking to the youngest kids, then the older ones, answering their questions and describing how my own love of books had been fanned by libraries when I was young. I talked about the books that I loved then, and still love now, many of which I would never have discovered if I hadn’t been able to wander slowly up and down the shelves of a library, plucking books that looked interesting, glancing at covers, scanning blurbs, reading a page or two, searching for the perfect book, the book that spoke to me.
Then I was handed a large pair of scissors.
On the other side of the door was a freshly-painted, crisply-lit room stuffed with books. Cue cries of “oooh” and “look!” from the children who had been patiently waiting for me to snip the ribbon. They rushed around the library, eagerly hunting through the shelves, showing off their discoveries to one another, then pestering the teachers with questions, demanding to know when and how they could take books out of the library. Watching them, I thought about how much libraries like this foster a love of books and reading, and wished every school had a library as welcoming and well-stocked as this one.
One of the nicest things about writing books is my post. Yes, of course, like anyone else, I get bank statements and notes from estate agents offering to sell my house and emails promising that I have won the State Lottery of a country that I’ve never visited, but I also get a lot of letters and emails from children who have read my books. My favourites are usually the ones that include a picture. I should post them here more often.
Here is a dragon that was sent to me by Brody, inspired by The Dragonsitter, which he has been reading.
Thank you, Brody, for sending me this brilliant dragon.