Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Kite Tale

I have to share with you the work of a great friend of mine Sarah Owen. She and her husband Simon and family have set  up a much treasured foodstore and delicatessen called Owen's close to where I live. It's a hub for the community and a place where, in the words of one customer... 'We go for fantastic food, warm welcomes and thoughtful conversation.' Before that Sarah worked in our local primary school and her displays and costumes for school shows were so extraordinary, imaginative and beautifully crafted that they could have easily graced any window display or exhibition. Sarah is much loved by many of the children and young people in the area who she has known and nurtured with her sunny smile and 'I've-always got time-for-you- manner.'

Before I started writing novels for young people my work was in Community Theatre and I see Sarah's world and mine as being very much linked. While she expresses herself through creating wonderful visual worlds, including her shop, I imagine worlds through words intended to be read by young people. Over the last couple of years we have very naturally come together to share these passions and last year Owen's was transported into a Kolkata Deli with the local launch of 'Jasmine Skies!'

Sarah with her pottery cow head and window display for 'Jasmine Skies' 
Sarah is an inspired artist, crafts person and maker. Like my sculptor character Garth in 'Kite Spirit' she creates work because it brings her pleasure. She is hesitant to display her creations despite many people begging her to open Owen's one evening as a Sarah Owen exhibition space. When I wrote 'Jasmine Skies'  Sarah popped around with a kingfisher  she'd made out of recycled materials which was the symbol of that book. 'Just something I put together from some bits of material!' she said!

It has now been seen and admired by thousands of young readers and is one of my treasured possessions.
In 'Kite Spirit' I describe the little centre in forget me not flowers as 'modest yellow suns'....the description seems to fit Sarah too.

Now with ' Kite Spirit' she has sewn the sixteenth birthday kite that Ruby, Kite's mother makes and presents to her daughter on that rites of passage day.

Sewn from silks to reflect  the colours of the lake District where the book is set... moss greens, heather and slate greys.
Our Kite Tale began when I gave the description below to Sarah. Then we went together with my youngest daughter Esha to Berwick street to choose the colours. Esha made her illustrating debut in 'Jasmine Skies' with her monkey drawing and draws and paints constantly. She brought a keen eye for choosing the colours of the kite, rejecting certain hues as too bright or simply 'wrong'.  It occurred to me as we placed  reams of silks side by side to find the palate of the Kite, that this process of laying  tones down and stitching words, ideas and symbols together is very similar to the process of writing. 'Kite Spirit' is populated by a diverse range of artists;  there are musicians, songwriters, dancers, circus artists, sculptors and architects. Through different mediums each character has the potential to find a voice and express their way of seeing the world. Sarah's Kite has become not only the kite that I imagined when I wrote this story, but also a wonderful birthday gift to launch 'Kite Spirit.'

'In front of her was a kite unlike any of the others in her collection.She ran her fingers over what looked like a patchwork of tiny rectangular pieces of parachute silk. Written into each coloured panel in gold and silver were birthday wishes from people from all parts of her life, here and in St Kitts...

 'Happy Birthday my beauty,' read the message from Grandma Grace.
'Go Crazy girl!' her cousin Jai wrote in his so-laid-back-it-was- almost lying down spidery handwriting.
On one triangle was written: 'To our wonderful daughter, our 'Kite Spirit' on your 16th birthday love Ruby and Seth xx'

Ruby held her tight as she read her own message and for a moment Kite closed her eyes and allowed herself to be comforted.
'There are loads more messages' Ruby encouraged her, and for her mothers' sake only Kite opened her eyes and read on.'
'You turn my world!' love Mali xxx'

Each message is lovingly hand sewn into the silks

'We have an appointment on the cloud swing! Love Annalisa x

From the chapter ' Bitter Sixteenth'  in ' Kite Spirit'

I am delighted that Sarah's Kite is to be unveiled for the first time in the wonderful Muswell Hill Children's Book Shop.

It is then planned to fly to 'Fringe' our beautiful sewing and knitting store.

In September Sarah's Kite will be exhibited in Central St Martin's School of Art and Design as part of a 'Kite Spirit' exhibition including a short film made by local film maker Shaun Cobley in which actress Juliet Stevenson reads excerpts from 'Kite Spirit'. The young local actress and dancer Lily Armah plays the character of Kite. The Pop Up Festival is a free Literary Festival featuring the work of many writers and illustrators and a fitting place, bringing together arts and community to fly the 'Kite Spirit'. London September 14/ 15.

Here is the 'Kite Spirit' book trailer on Macmillan Children's Books MyKindaBook website

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

'Kite Spirit's birthday and spooky happenings.

Today is 'Kite Spirit's' official publication birthday.

At Macmillan Children's books I am getting a reputation of slightly spooky happenings surrounding the publication of my books. The pre-publication tour for 'Kite Spirit' has definitely cemented that reputation!

Here's an excerpt from 'Kite Spirit' that strikes a chord!

'Do you believe in 'presences' and that sort of thing?' Kite asked.

Garth paused a moment before he spoke. 'Can't say for sure, but what I will say is there are certain spots that give you a feeling of something else, something beyond what we can see.'

For me the Lake District where the majority of 'Kite Spirit' is set is a place full of 'presences' that seem to stir just under the surface of slate and stone.

In an earlier blog I shared some photos that inspired me in the research journey to writing 'Kite Spirit'. It's always an odd feeling going back to the old haunts. It's as if you are walking inside the pages of your book. As I spend many hours walking these paths in my mind perhaps it's not surprising that I should have seen symbols everywhere on my return visit last week! In all three of my books the spirit world and the real world sit side by side, living parallel existences. You could easily explain the siting of spirits, ghosts or, as Mira would say,
'Notsurewho Notsurewhat!' in my books as  projections of the character's state of mind... on the other hand there may be other less logical explanations...

The first images Catherine Alport (Publicist) and I saw when walking into Altrincham Grammar School in Cheshire (first stop on our tour) were owl and sheep sketches that could have been drawn by my young artist character 'Garth' himself.  In ' Kite Spirit' he also creates a sculpture from the carcass of a sheep. And as for the owls... well they play an important part in the unraveling of the plot ... As Kite discovers when she comes across a book on Celtic folklore...

'...owls are used by the dead as a vehicle, to take messages to the living.'

After stimulating talks and workshop sessions with year nine and ten students it was up to the |Lake District for the celebration of Kite Spirit' in the Wordsworth Bookshop. A small section from Wordsworth's 'Spots of time' verse from 'The Prelude' is quoted at the beginning of 'Kite Spirit.' Here are some 'spots of time' from the book tour that for have penetrated my consciousness.

The Wordsworth Book Shop and tea room itself is situated opposite Penrith church yard. My mum's family are from the area and I went to primary school in The Lake District for three years so Penrith is familiar to me but I had never been to this lovely Independent bookshop.

Myself and Catherine Alport outside the lovely Wordsworth Book shop, Penrith
Walking into the low beamed ancient building;  a welcoming fire lit in the grate, was like entering The Carrec Arms, the ancient pub I have created in 'Kite Spirit.' As I gave my talk to a gathering of my Lake District family, friends and students from the Ullswater school... the church bells started ringing and did not stop until I ended my talk. Perhaps 'The Passing Bell' was ringing out for Jack, aged 99, as it does in my book...It's a hazard of the job believing that your characters could actually walk in, sit down and talk to you... The owners of The Wordsworth book shop Andrea and John, have created a place of history, welcome and warmth that is, like 'The Carrec Arms' 'bathed in soft amber light.' Along with Catherine Alport at Macmillan Children's Books they had secretly planned a wonderful event themed around all three of my books, with 'Kite Spirit' bunting, kite cakes, artichokes, Jasmine tea and some celebratory bubbles too! I felt very spoiled indeed.

After the event we were taken to the beautiful Sandhills Farm in Bassenthwaite. I woke at dawn and walked down through the peaceful St Begas Churchyard, following the stream along to Bassenthwaite lake. Not for the first time I felt as if I was walking through the pages of 'Kite Spirit'.

After breakfast Catherine joined me and of course she became 'The bonny Lass who sat upon a stile...' from the ancient song in 'Kite Spirit'!

There was just one thing missing from this perfect walk... an owl.

On we went to Cockermouth school and Helen, the Librarian pointed into some woodland as she drove... and there it was ...'With it's wings stretched to the widest expanse, every cream feather dappled with brown...' I have witnesses to prove it! Was it the Dawn Owl coming to visit me, like she comes to visit Kite?  Or just a coincidence?

'Mirror Falls,' the contemporary house that Kite stays in, has a glass ceiling and a glass floor which 'appeared to Kite like an enormous glass barge jutting off the landscape, or perhaps a giant icicle.'
 So it was with wonder that I walked into the Cockermouth school library to find this beautiful glass roof. A bit of me wondered whether there was a remote control panel that you might be able to press to retract the roof and expose the sky the removable roof at 'Mirror Falls'!

After more talks, workshops and signings and a prize draw for the KidsLit Quiz (of which Cockermouth school is the proud reigning champion) we took the train from Carlisle to Leeds. It's a beautiful journey over the Pennines especially on a 'a perfect picture book blue sky day' like the many 'forget me not blue skies' in 'Kite Spirit'. There was an elderly man helping on the tea trolley who filled us in on the history of the railway. He reminded me of some of my characters in The Carrec Arms; steeped in the history of the place. As we traveled to the highest point, our ears popping with the altitude, he pointed out all the waterfalls, like the one that surges beneath 'Mirror Falls' and he told us the tale of 'Ruswarp' the life saving dog at Garsdale Station... who like Bardsey the sheepdog in 'Kite Spirit' stays by his young companion's side when  she's in great danger. You see once the book is written it's hard not to see reflections of it wherever you go!

We arrived in Hull, and the window display in our hotel was... guess what... 'kites!' I'm not making it up! Here they are to prove it!

In the morning we set off to Hull Collegiate School. I had been to nursery school and year one and two in Hull before our family moved up to the Lake District and afterwards to Shropshire. However, as we chatted to the taxi driver he said that he had never heard of my old school. We pulled up outside an oddly familiar  building. It turns out that the name of the school has been changed and was in fact the school I went to when I was four years old... the same age that Dawn and Kite meet in my book. I had a lovely morning of talking about 'Kite Spirit,' holding workshops and chatting to a reading group and then... into the library walked a young girl I felt I vaguely recognised.

 'My mum says that you and she were best friends at primary school, would you sign my book!' She asked.

I knew that smile though I haven't seen it for well over forty years! Now that has got to go down in my top ten spooky coincidences or whatever you want to call them!

'Kite Spirit' is an exploration of the inner self. What makes you feel like flying and falling and what sustains you. For young people there is so much focus on the exterior: looks, weight, acheivements, popularity and social networks and conforming to an idea of what the world expects you to be.  Here is an A-Z  from boys and girls in Hull.

I felt it only right to fly Kite's 16th birthday kite at my old school. There was enough of a breeze to get the kite off the ground... with a little help from a keen kite flying teacher! (I have inspirational teachers in all my books) and in 'Kite Spirit' it's 'Miss Choulty' who helps my character Kite to fly again.

So... true to form there have been plenty of spooky and sustaining 'spots in time' for 'Kite Spirit' as it takes its first flight on publication day. First birthday's are always special. I have already collected many poems and wishes for Kite written by students after workshops and talks. One hundred of these will be chosen and attached to Kite's 16th Birthday kite (seen above) and placed in an exhibition at Central St Martin's School of Art and Design as part of the Pop Up Festival of Children's Literature in September.

But for now I take a deep breath, blow out the candle... and make my own wish for 'Kite Spirit' as she takes her first flight out into the world on publication day.