Tuesday, May 21, 2013

WEREWORLD: STORM OF SHARKS out today in US! Plus, Sandbach School visit...

Today sees the US release of WEREWORLD: Storm of Sharks - long awaited and the penultimate volume in the series. Still working on the last book as we draw dangerously close to the deadline date, but rest assured War of the Werelords will be in stores in October.

You can also take a look at the cracking video piece produced from yesterday's visit to Sandbach School. I had a fabulous time there (as you can probably tell) and am very much looking forward to a repeat visit. Huge thanks to librarians Ms Abrahams and Ms Tomlinson for arranging a great day.

Bada Bling!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Author talks in Bristol...

 I had a great time this week on a rare visit to Bristol with the fine folk of Puffin. I visited two schools - Queen Elizabeth High and Bristol Grammar - encountering a super bunch of students and teachers. It was lovely to be back there as my own career really started in Bristol nearly twenty years ago, with a work experience placement at Aardman Animation Studio working on Wallace & Gromit's "A Close Shave". This made my talk particularly relevant to the guys and gals in the audience I expect.

There's a lovely write-up of the BGS gig here. Really hope I can make a return visit to both schools soon to spread the 'Were-word' that little bit further. Huge thanks to Hannah at Puffin, Annette at QEH and Lucy at BGS for organising the events. And if you want me to visit your school to do a talk - GET IN TOUCH! Speak with your teachers and send them this way. Would be great to come and talk to you.

Bada Bling!

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Ray Harryhausen, 1920 - 2013

The first year I spoke at the Animex International Festival of Animation in Middlesbrough, I found myself on a panel with fellow industry bods including visFX guru Tom Martinek from Industrial Light and Magic. The panel was hastily arranged as there was a technical fault, so the four of us fielded questions from the audience. Then came the beauty:
'What was it that first made you want to work in the movies?'
I think Tom fielded the question, unsurprisingly name-checking the opening shots of STAR WARS as the Star Destroyer looms into view whilst chasing the Rebel Cruiser. It's undeniably breathtaking and had a profound effect on both myself and Tom as kids, as well as the other members of the panel - they all agreed that this shot was possibly the 'lightbulb' moment where they fell in love with cinema. Not so for me. I bucked the trend. Much as I loved Star Wars and profound as its influence was on my young mind, it was another film that had fired my imagination, from the comfort of my living room.
Jason And The Argonauts.

Seeing the statue of Talos groan into life, watching the skeletons rise from the ground, sprouting from the Hydra's teeth - these were what captured my heart as a kid. Yes it's jerky compared to modern day CGI special effects, but as stop motion animation goes this remains sophisticated, stylish and utterly breathtaking. Indeed, this film no doubt inspired every single film maker on the Star Wars franchise, not least George Lucas and Phil Tippett, stop motion animator of many memorable sequences in the series. The name of the fancy shmancy restaurant in Monsters Inc is no coincidence. A namecheck to whom? Uncle Ray, of course.
That's how I've always referred to him, anyway, though I only met him the once. Mention 'Uncle Ray' to any animator, and they'll know who you're speaking about instinctively, just like 'Uncle Walt'. Harryhausen's influence cannot be underestimated as it isn't just animators who have been inspired by him: illustrators and storytellers alike take their beats from his work. The many Sinbad movies, at times flawed by dodgy acting from the human cast, were never let down by the true stars - the monsters of Harryhausen remained utterly believable, the master breathing life into the unreal. One of my real favourites was The Valley Of Gwangi - cowboys vs dinosaurs? What's not to love? He was doing mash-ups before anyone KNEW what a mash-up was...
And now he's gone, though his influence remains. If I hadn't fallen in love with his films and characters, I'd probably never have spent my childhood playing with Action Men and Star Wars toys at the bottom of the garden, 'dolly-waggling' as my imagination ran riot. This was where I started growing as a storyteller, lost in my own little world, re-enacting the shenanigans Sinbad and Jason got up to. I would never have fallen in love with the Greek Myths if it weren't for Uncle Ray. I'd never have devoured every puppet animation I saw as a kid if it hadn't been for Uncle Ray. I'd never wanted to be an illustrator if it wasn't for Uncle Ray. I probably wouldn't have fallen in love with roleplaying games if it weren't for Uncle Ray, as this was truly where I learned to spin a yarn. I wouldn't have worked on Bob the Builder, or Wallace and Gromit, or Raa Raa if it weren't for Uncle Ray. And I'm pretty sure my first paid gig, Mars Attacks, wouldn't have happened if Uncle Ray hadn't first animated those skeletons.

I met him that one time twenty years ago at the short lived Banbury Animation Festival. He'd have been in his early seventies at the time and, frail though he was, commanded the audience's attention. Having a plethora of monsters on stage with him also helped as the assembled geek army watched on with slack-jawed wonder. I recall Dr Graeme Garden, of the Goodies fame, sat behind me in the crowd, there with his son. A fan, just like anyone else, who wanted to queue up and shake the great man's hand at the end of the talk. Hands that brought monsters to life...

You'll be missed, Mr Harryhausen, but never forgotten.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Author visit to the Anglo American International School in Moscow

Hot on the heels of the Endangered Authors jaunt across the United States, my next adventure took me to their old sparring partner, Russia. For a good look at how the trip went, check out the splendid wee film produced by Bogdan across on Vimeo.
I arrived into Domodedovo which is one of Moscow's airports. I say it's Moscow's, but it's a whopping hour and a half's drive away on a clear run. I didn't get a clear run on the way i...n - the rain had descended in quite dramatic fashion, making the long road into the city quite a joyless affair. It's fair to say one has a preconceived idea of what Moscow is before one visits, thanks in no small part to what appears in the news and press. First impressions weren't great for me, as I drove past countless high rise blocks for mile upon mile. However, upon finally reaching the apartment I would be staying in, my opinion was beginning to change.

Librarian of the Middle and High School library at the AAS, John Bishop, was waiting to meet me at the door, showing me in giving me a moment to settle before rustling up some company for the evening. Joined by the very lovely Bogdan Mihai and ace art teacher Ellie, we set off to the Corner Burger restaurant. I know, I know, it's not the authentic Muscovite meal, a BLT Cheeseburger, but I was in need of instant and familiar sustenance at that point in time. We shared a laugh and the guys filled me in on the school before I set off back to my apartment to sleep.
 An old school bus waited for us in the morning, taking myself and a gang of teachers from the apartment block to the school itself. Security was tight, as one would expect: the school caters for the children of diplomats, business leaders and the like, from over 60 countries in all. Melanie Sobool, Elementary Librarian, and co-conspirator of John's, helped me set up and introduced me to the kids over the following three days. I have to say the kids and staff of the AAC were universally fab, to every man, woman and child. I was made to feel thoroughly welcome and just enough of a rock star to think they might rather dig WEREWORLD once they start reading the books. But this wasn't all about WEREWORLD - I was speaking to kids from pre-Kindergarten upward, not my usual crowd for a distant school visit, but Bob The Builder casts a long shadow over my CV it would appear. Concentrating on picture books and preschool television, I then moved onto Frankenstein's Cat for the 2nd and 3rd Graders before moving onto WEREWORLD with the 4th and 5th Grades. 

Suffice to say it'd be great to return and talk not only to the Middle school but also the High school - there's plenty in my colourful career that should appeal to any young person setting out into a creative future.
Subsequent evenings didn't disappoint, and I've really got to thank John, Bogdan, Melanie, Ian Forster and the rest of the staff for chaperoning me throughout my visit. Monday evening we walked down to Red Square to cop an eyeful of the Kremlin. That's an awful lot of bricks. And mortar. And gold. Lots of gold. Tuesday evening involved a trip to the Stanisavsky and Danchenko theatre to watch the ballet - my first time for a bit of tight-festooned dance action and it didn't disappoint. Quite incredible and breathtaking. The only disappointment was the crooked old woman who pushed me aside in her eagerness to get into the theatre beforehand, resulting in a torn pair of jeans. 

Home now, and things are slowly returning to normal. Very slowly...

Bada Bling!

Endangered Authors US Tour

I'm back home in Blighty now, the tour complete and a mountain of dirty laundry all I have to show for it. If you want to find out more about the tour, your best port of call is the official Wereworld Facebook page. The tour featured four authors - myself, Geoff Rodkey, Jacqueline West and Adam Gidwitz - with Peter McNerney from the Story Pirates the maniac behind the microphone. But this is just a teaser of how things went, the transcript of the final days of the tour and a few choice snaps from the trip. How were those final two days? Let me tell you.

 We were in Connecticut for the penultimate day, our first port of call Meadowside School in Milford where librarian Gail Sostilio and a tremendously excited gang of kids (and teachers) awaited.... Molly Sardella from Penguin had joined the gang - alongside Elyse Marshall the whole tour has been down to their perfect pitch, planning and handiwork. In the afternoon we headed down the road to Abraham Pierson School in Clinton, where librarian Emily Kelsey greeted us with grinning kids and rather fabulous homemade brownies.

Thanks to Karen from RJ Julia bookstore for championing both of these events.
 And the final day? New Jersey awaited, under the watchful eye of Watchung Booksellers (specifically the lovely Marisela and Liane!) What hospitable hosts and grand (and giddy) company! Our first port of call was Charles H Bullock Elementary in Montclair, followed by Ridgewood Avenue school in Glen Ridge. Both schools provided us with a terrific send off for the final Endangered Authors day. Adam's temptation to total the set on the final event at Ridgewood Ave needed to be tempered - I suspect he'd seen a Who documentary or somesuch the night before. Or he'd had too much coffee at the fab Comfort Food Kitchen that lunch. We certainly went out on a high, with Peter pulling out all the stops as Holden A Grudge for the last two shows. There was mad cackling, pantomime child-bullying, screaming, hooting and hollering - all wholesome, nutritious family entertainment. And I only managed to upset one girl with my One Direction mockage (sorry Hannah!)
 Then we were on our way, Jacqui and I the first to depart to Newark for our respective flights home. It was strange and sad to say goodbye to the gang after we'd formed such a tight unit/troupe over the previous three weeks. We'd all got used to one another's oddities: Geoff's need to eat six square meals a day; Peter's inability to imbibe more than one beaker of alcofrolic drink; Jacqueline's moist eyes whenever a waggy-tailed, furry-rumped, four-legged friend trots by; and Adam's penchant for locking his travelling companions in the back of each car we travelled in. Yep, sad indeed to say goodbye to them all as I feel I've made friends for life.
 I've got to say a BIG thank you to Elyse Marshall and Molly Sardella at Penguin who put the tour together. It's been quite an incredible achievement - thank you so much my dears for inviting this wee fella along with such fabulous authorly company.

THANK YOU to all the schools and especially their librarians who have got behind the tour. This has only confirmed to me my suspicion that the job of librarian is truly a calling and one of the most worthy within any school.
 CHEERS to all the students who attended the show - I hope you've fallen in love with all four of the authors who fought for their lives under Holden A Grudge's wicked questioning. Remember - KEEP YOUR HOBBIES! Who knows where they might lead?

LOVE and STUFF to all the wonderful booksellers and stores who have liaised between Penguin and the schools and ensured that every child (and adult) had a chance to snaffle a book or four as a memento of the tour.
But most of all THANKS to my fab four travelling companions. Couldn't have imagined doing this with anybody else. The sadness of our parting is outweighed by my reunion with the Jobling wolfpack back home, though.
Coming next is my report from my trip over to Moscow to speak at the Anglo American International School. It was a hoot and an eye opener. Don't expect my body clock to be in working order again until sometime in May.

 Bada Bling!