I rarely set off to a literary festival without a vague sense of dread and guilt (I really should be home working, or at least pretending to work), and I always return with a sense of exhilaration and a head full of new ideas. So thank you Miriam Moellers, for inviting me to the Berlin Festival of Literature and then convincing me to stay longer than seemed strictly necessary.
What an extraordinary city Berlin is. Sad and edgy, full of ghosts, and fizzing with energy. Four days wasn’t nearly enough to scratch the surface, and yet catching up even from four days away from home and e-mail and laundry seems to take forever. But Miriam gently persuaded me that forty-eight hours in Berlin was an absurdity, and she was right. Thanks to an excellent series of simultaneous translators whispering in my ear more or less non-stop during the festival (translating from German to English or occasionally from Norwegian to German to English) I even understood some of what went on.
At the festival, I had the chance to talk to Malorie Blackman at length, something I never manage to do in England despite the fact that we live less than an hour apart. American writer John Green (Looking for Alaska) entertained us with his weirdly sophisticated financial nous while the papers and BBC World News announced in hourly bulletins that the bottom had dropped out of the stock market. His readings were funny, too, which was nice for those of us whose entire retirement funds were held by Lehman Brothers.
John and I shared an event with Stian Hole, a weird and wonderful picture book writer from Norway, and Einar Turkowsky, whose first book – executed entirely in HB pencil – took three years to draw. I met my long-time hero, Wolf Erlbruch, illustrator of The Little Mole Who Knew it Was None of His Business, and have been trying to think of a text good enough to tempt him ever since. And a plate of pasta with white truffles at a restaurant called Florian as a guest of the owner with my brilliant German translator, Brigitte Jakobeit, was among the best and most convivial meal I’ve ever eaten.
More festival news? Before Berlin there was Bath, organized by John McLay and his wife, Gill. I once called John the eminence grise of children’s literature and he’s referred to himself as the emmental cheese ever since. It’s a silly pun, but it makes me laugh. The lovely Marcus Sedgwick and I shared a stage with two excellent teen interviewers from Spinebreakers, and the festival — though only in its second year – felt far too exciting and well-organized for such a new venture.
Now it’s on to Cheltenham, and an event with Mal Peet, author of Exposure, an extraordinary new version of Shakespeare’s Othello, only set in the world of South American football. I highly recommend it, and despite the fact that I don’t have much interest in football, found it utterly gripping. How does he do that?
Eventually, I’ll have to start the next book, but I’m taking a few weeks off first because I’ve written four books in five years, and am feeling a bit fed up with the sound of my own voice. I love the story of Philip Johnson coming up with the idea for the top of the Chippendale building in NYC over lunch, sketching it quickly on a napkin and then turning it over to a crack team of lackeys to design. Wish I could do the same with There is No Dog. So far, there is no There Is No Dog, a situation I’ll need to rectify sooner rather than later. But not until I’ve proofread this letter and had a nice cup of tea.