Posted by Christopher at 1.23pm
On Sunday night I flew back from Dubai where I had spent the previous week as part of the 2016 Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. Attending this festival has proved to be one of the most inspirational experiences of my writing career to date and I just wanted to write this brief blog post to share some of my thoughts and feelings about the experience.
I arrived in Dubai in the early hours of Tuesday morning and that evening attended an Oasis in Time, an event to celebrate the opening of the festival with readings from Carol Ann Duffy, Anthony Horowitz, Meera Syal and Robert Lindsay to name but a few. This event contained two highlights for me. The first was listening to the eight-year-old Emirati author Abdullah Ali Hassan speaking from the stage with such youthful power and vigour that he put authors five times his age (i.e. me!) to shame. The second was listening to the astronaut Commander Chris Hadfield talk about the power of books and imagination. He spoke about his childhood dreams, of humanity’s greatest achievements, the wonders of the universe and the power of inspiration. “It begins with the spark of an idea,” he said, “It begins with literature.” And over the next few days at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, I saw for myself how true these words were.
On Wednesday morning I had an event scheduled at the Nord Anglia International School in Dubai, where students from twelve different schools were due to hear me talk about Twelve Minutes to Midnight and the Penelope Tredwell series, but as monsoon rains fell and the car sped through flooded streets, I wondered whether even one student would be able to make it through the chaos that the rain in Dubai brings. Luckily, I had reckoned without the indomitable thirst for books that students in Dubai possess and managed to speak to an auditorium of over 150 students about where I found inspiration for Twelve Minutes to Midnight, exploring with them the world of 19th century stories from Sherlock Holmes to The War of the Worlds, and talking about how Penelope Tredwell fights against the expectations of her age to succeed in her endeavours. After the event I had the chance to chat to the students, who seemed to come from every corner of the world, and it was an honour to share in the love of books that they had. Huge thanks to the staff at Nord Anglia school for looking after me, especially Jasmine Ismael who is the wonderful librarian there.
Racing back through flooded streets to the festival site, I quickly got myself ready for my first How To Write Your Best Story Ever event, a creating writing workshop for children aged 9-11. In these sessions I talk about the process of writing a story, helping children to develop story ideas from initial sparks of inspiration, create characters and settings and finally write the openings to their own stories. There was a great mix of children at the event with a panoply of ideas and we had great fun developing their story sparks into some fantastic stories.
One prompt I give children if they have trouble coming up with an initial spark of inspiration is to take down a book from the shelf and flick through this until they find a line that could inspire their own story. The example I used in the session was a line taken from The Adventures of Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie:
“By and by there was to be heard a sound at once the most musical and the most melancholy in the world: the mermaids calling to the moon.”
In the workshop, we talked about the stories this line might inspire. An eight-year-old Emirati girl suggested that the mermaids might be singing to their cousins who lived on the moon, moon mermaids made of sand and dust who were longing to visit the Earth. I asked the girl where in the world the sand mermaids would want to visit, and, of course, the answer was Dubai. This girl then wrote the opening to the most magical story: a story about a young Emirati girl who walked out into the desert one day to discover a sand mermaid who had fallen from the moon. It was a real honour to share in this girl’s creative process and see how a line written in England over a hundred years ago could inspire a 21st century Emirati girl to create the most wondrous tale.
I took part in several other inspirational events as part of the festival: a creative workshop for teen authors, a panel event talking ‘scintillating science’ and The Many Worlds of Albie Bright alongside the amazing authors Nick Arnold, Rachel Hamilton and Rehan Khan, and a ‘Now There’s a Scary Thought’ panel moderated by Jo Wroe where I appeared alongside the fantastic authors Curtis Jobling and Darren Shan talking about fiction that chills and thrills. And in every event I was reminded of the power of books: to engage and open minds, to share ideas and to inspire.
After the final panel event, I had the chance to meet Hanna Ladha, an eight-year-old girl from Dubai who had been prevented by the rain from attending my Education Day event, and she presented me with a piece of art that she’d created inspired by Twelve Minutes to Midnight. This beautiful gift brought home for me the wonder that can be found in stories – how the solitary act of writing can create connections that span the continents.
Perhaps more selfishly, another way in which the festival inspired me was by giving me the chance to meet some incredible authors. From chatting about the writing process with Ian Rankin to letting Simon Armitage know that I owed him money from my days as a student when I bought his collected works for 20 pence from a bookshop which priced books by their weight – a debt now karmically repaid – the writers who I met reminded me of the inspiration that books have given me, taking me on a once unimagined journey into another life.
Apart from the wonderful readers that I met, the people I spent the most time with at the festival were fellow authors from the world of children’s books: Jonathan Meres, Holly Smale, Lauren St John, A. F. Harrold, Curtis Jobling, Chris Haughton, Rachel Hamilton, Gill Lewis, Petr Horacek, David Melling, Garth Nix, Lauren Child, Sean Fay-Wolfe, Darren Shan, Jacqueline Wilson. Thank you one and all for being such great company.
The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature hasn’t been without controversy this year, with several people calling for a boycott of the festival. The author Chris Cleave writes here why he decided not to boycott the festival and his reasons echo my own – although they’re much more eloquently expressed. But one experience crystallized for me what I think the festival achieves.
On Thursday night I was in the audience for Desert Stanzas, a night of poetry from John Agard, Simon Armitage, Harry Baker, Nujoom Al Ghanem and Grace Nicholls. As I listened to these incredible poets from all around the world, I was reminded of these lines from William Blake’s poetry:
“To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour”
And as these poets scattered their words like grains of sand into the desert night, I thought to myself this is what is happening here. Writers and readers being brought together to share in the wonder of words. Sparks of inspiration, worlds of stories and ideas, scattered like dust into thousands of minds.
It was a real honour to be part of the 2016 Emirates Airline Festival of Literature and I’d like to say a huge thank you to Isobel Abulhoul, Yvette Judge and everyone else involved in the festival, from the organisers to the volunteers. Thank you for inviting me to scatter my grains of sand.
Emirates Airline Festival of Literature 2016
Posted by Christopher at 9.48am
On Thursday 28th January I appeared on Front Row, BBC Radio 4's live magazine programme on the worlds of arts, literature, film, media and music. It was a real honour to be interviewed by Samira Ahmed and have the chance to discuss quantum physics, children's fiction and The Many Worlds of Albie Bright. You can listen to or download the whole programme, which also featured the Elizabethan magician and spy John Dee, the sixties comedian Marty Feldman and the textile designer Tibor Reich, here and listen to the interview below.
Last week, the author SF Said launched the #CoverKidsBooks campaign, calling on newspapers to feature more children’s book reviews in their print editions. Sales of children's books currently account for 30% of the UK book market, but the campaign's research shows that children's books receive a much smaller fraction of the available review space in print newspapers. The #CoverKidsBooks campaign has already received an enthusiastic response, with the TES announcing on Friday that they are bringing back children's books reviews to give pupils a platform in the newspaper to write about the books they love.
Commenting on the importance of the #CoverKidsBooks campaign, Charlotte Eyre, the Children's Editor at The Bookseller, writes that when new children's books are featured in the review pages of national newspapers they are putting children's fiction "in front of hundreds - and even thousands - of adults who, and I think this is a very crucial point, weren’t looking for children’s book reviews in the first place." This serendipitous discovery is vital, perhaps prompting adult readers to move on from memories of their own childhood favourites and encouraging them to discover new authors and future classics with their own children.
Children's books are the wellspring of so much of our popular culture and a vibrant part of it too. Thank you to Samira Ahmed and Front Row for helping to show this.
The Many Worlds of Albie Bright,
Posted by Christopher at 1.55pm
The Many Worlds of Albie Bright was published on the 14th January and I’ve been absolutely thrilled by the reception it’s received so far from readers. Just ahead of publication, The Times chose The Many Worlds of Albie Bright as their Children’s Book of the Week and Albie’s also received some lovely reviews from magazines and book blogs too.
I’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who’s read and reviewed The Many Worlds of Albie Bright. Last night, Frances Hardinge was awarded the Costa Book of the Year for her amazing novel The Lie Tree, and in her acceptance speech she described how it is a fantastic time to be writing children’s fiction and invited readers who might think that children’s books are not their thing to come and explore because ‘there’s a beautiful jungle out there.’
I love this image of the ‘beautiful jungle’ of children’s fiction, a world filled with wonder and excitement, where writers of real ambition such as Hardinge have made their home. Reviewers of children’s books are the indispensible guides to this ‘beautiful jungle’, leading readers through the thickets and vines to discover amazing books and fantastic authors, and I’m so grateful to all the reviewers who have shared their thoughts on The Many Worlds of Albie Bright. And if any reviewers felt able too to cross-post their review on the websites of online retailers such as Amazon, Waterstones etc. I’d really appreciate this, as sometimes these websites are where new readers take a first peek at the ‘beautiful jungle’ that’s out there.
Here’s the round-up of reviews and if you’ve reviewed The Many Worlds of Albie Bright and would like me to add a link to your review to this list, just drop me a line and I’ll update this blogpost.
“This book is such a delight – it made me laugh out loud, took my breath away and made me cry. It truly is a wonderful story which I loved reading.” BookLover Jo
“This is an extraordinary novel for children that sets out to explore the possibilities of our world” Minerva Reads
“It is a world full of many possibilities, a world of imagination and one that I would recommend to everyone, not just children” Mr Ripley's Enchanted Books
“This eccentric, rather vividly compelling book is something that I think will mark its space very distinctly in the world.” L.H. Johnson
“This book offers accessible insights into such perplexing subjects as quantum physics, while telling a great story at the same time” Family Traveller
“This is an amazing, wonder-filled novel that ... really touches the heart and excites the mind. More than that, it is FUN. I can't recommend this book highly enough." Fallen Star Stories
"I am quite certain that this book will find its way into the hearts of children and adults alike" Armadillo Mag
"With its brilliant story and universal appeal, I wholeheartedly recommend The Many Worlds of Albie Bright to readers of all ages." Sofi Croft's Book of the Month
"A quantum fairy tale" John K. Fulton
"An accessible, inclusive delight of an adventure, with a bittersweet centre - that will take readers as far as their curiosity dares them to go" Teach Primary magazine
Finally, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Samira Ahmed for Front Row, Radio 4’s premier magazine programme about the arts, earlier this month, and you’ll be able to hear me discussing quantum physics, children’s fiction and The Many Worlds of Albie Bright when this is broadcast on Front Row at 7.15pm on Thursday 28th January. Here’s the link to the podcast of the programme which should be available shortly after broadcast.
The Many Worlds of Albie Bright,
Posted by Christopher at 8.19pm
I love music. I can’t listen to music when I’m writing. This is a source of great frustration to me.
But even though The Many Worlds of Albie Bright was written mainly in silence, punctuated only by the occasional sound of me banging my head against the laptop keyboard, there is a soundtrack to the book. These are the songs that in some way inspired me as I was writing or which now take on a new meaning as I think about Albie’s story.
I really envy songwriters and musicians their almost supernatural ability to evoke an emotional response not only with lyrics, but also wordlessly with a melody, a key change or a fading chord. Music connects on a primal level. And the music that soundtracks your life can become freighted with new meaning when something happens that completely changes your world.
The Many Worlds of Albie Bright is a story about a boy trying to come to terms with the death of his mum and tells how he uses quantum physics to journey to parallel worlds in search of her. There’s sadness in its pages, but I hope that readers find hope and wonder there too. I wanted Albie’s story to tap into the emotions that these songs hold for me, to move people and remind readers that, no matter how dark things get, the stars still shine in the sky.
You can listen to the Spotify playlist here and, if you want to read along with the soundtrack, the tracklisting at the bottom of the page indicates the chapter each song belongs to. I won’t tell you about every tune, but here’s some of my favourite songs from the soundtrack and why I chose them.
Do You Realize?? by The Flaming Lips – A beautiful song about the miracle of life and the inevitability of mortality, filled with science and wonder. I couldn’t have started the soundtrack with any other song.
Death With Dignity by Sufjan Stevens – From Carrie and Lowell, an album of songs inspired by the death of Sufjan Stevens’ mother, for me this haunting track evokes the loneliness and loss that the death of a parent can bring. In this article from The Guardian, the journalist Danny Wright writes movingly of the solace this album brought him when his own father died.
Shroedinger’s Cat by The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger – Finding a song about quantum physics isn’t as easy as you might think, but in this track from Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl, the physicist’s metaphorical cat muses on love and mortality.
Intergalactic by The Beastie Boys – Now I don’t want you thinking The Many Worlds of Albie Bright is a total sob-fest. From a stolen stuffed platypus to a kidnapped psychopathic cat, there’s a lot of humour in the pages of the book and this joyous tune from the Beastie Boys literally soundtracks a pivotal scene in the story.
Come Home Baby by The Charlatans – From my album of 2015 comes this beautiful song filled with love and yearning. In my mind I hear the lyrics as an ode to a newborn baby. It’s a song I can imagine Albie’s mum singing to Albie as he lay in his cot and years later it’s a song that could fuel Albie’s search for his mum through parallel worlds, and maybe even bring him home.
P.S. You Rock My World by Eels – One of the key inspirations for The Many Worlds of Albie Bright is the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum physics which proposes that parallel worlds exist. This theory was created by the US scientist Hugh Everett. His son, Mark Everett, is the lead singer and songwriter of Eels, and made Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives, a fascinating documentary about his father’s theory and the relationship they had. In this song, the key refrain of ‘Maybe it’s time to live’ echoes the strength that I hope readers find in Albie’s story.
The Prettiest Star by David Bowie – The soundtrack ends with a triptych of songs about the stars, with pride of place taken by this beautiful song from the great David Bowie. And in tribute to an icon whose music brought such inspiration to me and millions of others, here’s a line from The Many Worlds of Albie Bright. Shine on, Ziggy.
“There’s a piece of heaven inside you and there’s piece of heaven inside me. We’re all made of stardust.”
The Many Worlds of Albie Bright – a chapter-by-chapter tracklisting
1. Do You Realize?? – The Flaming Lips [Chapter 1]
2. Death With Dignity – Sufjan Stevens [Chapter 2]
3. Silent Sigh – Badly Drawn Boy [Chapter 4]
4. Galaxy of Emptiness – Beth Orton [Chapter 5]
5. Shroedinger’s Cat – The Ghost Of A Saber Tooth Tiger [Chapter 6]
6. Across the Universe – Rufus Wainwright [Chapter 6]
7. Inner Meet Me – The Beta Band [Chapter 7]
8. Rings Around the World – Super Furry Animals [Chapter 10]
9. Intergalactic – Beastie Boys [Chapter 12]
10. Race For The Prize – The Flaming Lips [Chapter 13]
11. The Scientist – Coldplay [Chapter 15]
12. Stay – Bernard Butler [Chapter 16]
13. Come Home Baby – The Charlatans [Chapter 16]
14. P.S. You Rock My World – Eels [Chapter 16]
15. The Prettiest Star – David Bowie [Chapter 17]
16. Stellify – Ian Brown [Chapter 17]
17. Shine Like Stars – Primal Scream [Chapter 17]
The Many Worlds of Albie Bright,