Ok last weekend I was absolutely in tatters, I was in a quandary, in Oxford one of my favourite authors was going to be in conversation with another author whose work I have been very interested in. And it would be possible for me to go. Eeep.
You may not know this about me but I do have quite bad social anxiety for a number of reasons and crippling imposter syndrome when it comes to things like this. Luckily the lovely people of twitter encouraged me to go (thank you so much everyone) and I did and although I was scared, I did it and it was wonderful.
On arrival I lurked in the children’s section like a weird person!! I had ordered a click and collect to the store (Sophie Green’s sequel Potkin & Stubbs: The Haunting Of Peligan City) to make me have an extra reason go in store (forward thinking!!) and I nearly bolted after buying it and a few recently released books (couldn’t help myself)
I looked over to where the seating was set up and squeaked as Candy and Sophie were there with her family and not only that but they were both talking to Robin Stevens! I was terribly wobbly
What was particularly lovely was seeing how wonderful Sophie’s family are. Sophie and her husband’s children are thoughtful, intelligent and creative individuals and I loved how Sophie brought them into the talk by giving the older children the task of drawing stories. Throughout it was clear how much they all respect Sophie as they looking with such admiration and love throughout it was potent and beautiful.
The talk itself.
Sophie introduced the audience to Yanka and the context of The Girl who Speaks Bear and how 12 fairy tales inspired by Russian and Slavic fairy tales are interspersed in the chapters. All are heavily inspired but adapted to suit the narrative with The Lime Tree being the truest to its roots.
The gorgeous ‘your turn, no your turn’ dynamic between Sophie and Candy was so clear just how much they respect and admire each other’s work.
Candy Gourlay then introduced us to Bone Talk which is written for an older audience than The Girl Who Speaks Bear.
In the early 19th Century the Philippines were invaded by USA – Filipino tribes included a headhunting tribe and Candy wanted imagine these first meetings.
Filipino heritage stories were preserved in oral storytelling traditions and had been swept away as improper with the impact of Christian Missionaries so the research uncovered truths and meanings beyond what Candy had been taught in school.
The Wonder Of Trees-
Tree Mythology is something that unites many cultures across the world. It’s something that is very resonating for me and a reason why we have planted trees everywhere we have lived.
So it was wonderful to hear Candy speak of trees as time travellers, with such power, having heard voices, wishes, hopes, tears and dreams of ancestors alongside our own.
Candy then spoke of a tradition shown in her book as the Tree of Bones–
Where one would hang the bones of animals to allow their souls go to another world to be guardians – bones tinkle in the wind and speak the stories of ancestors.
Sophie tells us the story of The Lime Tree
This is also in The Girl Who Speaks Bear which is seen across Eastern European culture as part of the origin story for bears sometimes called why bears paws are like hands
Myths are like early science as they tried to explain the word around them and the interesting fact is that now with science we can see how bears and human are linked evolution wise.
Candy then told us A Maori myth about Trees
In New Zealand trees are immense and the Maori people wanted to understand why they are so incredibly tall.
The god of the sky and the god of the Earth were in love and embraced all the time and had children who were trapped in darkness between their embrace.
The children really wanted to see the sun and then one child was tuned himself into a tree to push them apart so they are so far apart and the god of the sky weeps for the Earth bringing rain.
But the children were happy to have the freedom of the Earth and sky.
This myth is part of the ordinary world concept- the world that the hero lives in before the story actually happens and writers have to make sure there is something wonderful between the two- what happened to make the things in our world occur and what made sense before
Take one step backwards and ask What was the Lime Tree before it was a tree?
Sophie tells a Canadian First Nations tale of How the mosquito came to be.
Once a village on the river and a gigantic monster moved in was as big as a tree and had a long snout and pointy claws it ate people and drank blood- so the fisherman would be eaten!
The villagers were in dismay and got together the warriors to kill the monster but they had no chance.
A young girl and boy decided to do something and they came up with a plan – the young boy and girl came across the monster and he took them back to his lair and they pushed the monster into the fire and exploded into ashes and embers and each part became a mosquito and they decided to bite humans in revenge forever
Candy- The Dugong Mermaids – and a joke about HOW LONG must these men been at sea??!! This misunderstanding inspired a picture book!
Sophie – Another First Nations myth focusing on how a baby Crow creates Night and Day by playing with a box.
Candy- The Giants Causeway Origin Myth
With great artwork by Candy!
Crowd sourcing a myth.
This was a collaborative activity for the audience coming up with ideas- such as why do cats hate water, why are clouds white?
What were things like before and be as creative as possible
Turns into explaining everything that was came up with through the mad story illustrated by Candy and Sophie’s son
Sophie asks Candy about her research for Bone Talk
Candy faced incredible difficulty as history books were written by Americans or Americanised Filipinos and the Filipino culture is disparaged in favour of westernisation
However, Candy found the diary of a wife of an explorer who wrote about the Filipino people in a positive manner. The woman had written about the children and their interests and treated the cook with respect who was photographed as a scary warrior by the husband and yet his wife writes about him as a person and his personality and interests.
Then we had some questions , I was super brave and also heard from Dionne (who I was too shy to approach in the signing queue as she was having a lovely chat with a teacher who had come down from Warwickshire) then we had a reading from both Candy and Sophie from their respective books.
Then we had a signing where I was extremely nervous but I got all my books signed including getting a wonderful sketch by Candy in the last copy of Is it a Mermaid? by Candy and Francesca Chessa which is just perfectly wonderful and I got a hug with Sophie who really is as wonderful in real life as you could imagine!
If you ever get the opportunity to see these wonderful authors I strongly recommend it!!
Thank you Blackwells and the Publicity teams of Usborne and David Fickling Books for organising this event.