No, not Buckingham Palace, Crystal Palace! Today I was down in South London at Alex Milway’s wonderful Crystal Palace Children’s Book Festival, which he has set up from scratch for the first time this year. Now, setting up a whole festival is no mean feat, it takes a huge amount of work and passion and creativity, and is, from what I’ve heard, pretty much a full-time job. But Alex is perfect for that job, as he does have oodles and oodles of enthusiasm and creativity. He decided to set up a festival, and he just went ahead and did it! And what a fantastic job he made of it too.
There were a series of workshops throughout the day, of which mine was one. I headed down on the train (well, trains, as there were bloody ENGINEERING WORKS so one train became about three hundred, but then that was the only bad part of the day so I can’t really complain) and went straight to Upper Norwood Library, run by the lovely Fiona. I was about five minutes late, so when I arrived I saw that my workshopees were already waiting – mostly kids, but also a couple of adults who thought it was an adult workshop (one of which, I realised later, was Cristy Burne, winner of the Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Award for her new novel Takeshita Demons, which looks amazing)! They were all great, and we cracked into some exercises straight away, including how to build the foundation of a horror story by looking at your worst fears. An hour later and there were some terrifying plots for horror stories doing the rounds, and I hope that everyone who was there goes off and writes a scary story! Many thanks to everybody who came, it was great meeting you all!
Afterwards I went for a delicious (but very hot) Thai lunch with Alex and some other festival folk and we chatted about books and writing and films and all sorts of other things, which is always lovely but especially so once you’ve finished a workshop and can relax. Thanks to Bookpirate for footing the bill! After that we waddled contentedly up to The Bookseller Crow for an afternoon of readings. It was a fantastic lineup, with Alex reading from his new Mousehunter book, then the marvelous Sam Enthoven reading from TIM Defender of the Earth, then me, then Sarwat Chadda with his first ever reading from his new horror Devil’s Kiss. It was the first time I’d met Sam and Sarwat, and they were both brilliant. I’m really looking forward to reading their books. Incidentally, I discovered that Sarwat’s mother-in-law lives about one minute from my house in Norwich, how weird is that?! After some signings from the DFC illustrators we headed over to Smash Bang Wallop, a lovely gallery, and enjoyed some well-earned drinks. I met tonnes of other talented people there, including Sue Eves, although I didn’t get to meet her wonderful dog.
So all in all a perfect day, and Alex should be immensely proud of himself for pulling it all together so expertly. Hopefully there will be another one next year!
And I just have to say that out of all the places I’ve ever been in London, Crystal Palace is by far the nicest. Where else can you be walking down the street, turn your head to the side and be blown away by a view like this (which, if you can’t make it out, is the WHOLE of London):