The Blue Peter Panel at the Oxford Literary Festival 2011

Am I definitely famous now that I've got a photo with Barney Harwood of Blue Peter?

Our panel at the Oxford Literary Festival (from left to right): Philip Reeve (A Web of Air), Barney Harwood of Blue Peter, me and Lauren St John (Dead Man's Cove)
If you have no idea what Blue Peter is then you must be living on another planet ... or another country. Blue Peter is the United Kingdom's favourite kid's TV magazine show, made by the BBC. Here's the Blue Peter website.

So you can imagine what an amazing thrill it was when Tall Story was short-listed for Blue Peter's My Favourite Story Prize along with A Web of Air by Philip Reeve and Dead Man's Cove by Lauren St John. Dead Man's Cove won and yesterday, us three authors on the shortlist appeared at the Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival to talk about our books.
It was held at Christ Church Hall, now known as Hogwarts Hall because that was where the movie was made! It didn't look like this

Floating candle scene from Harry Potter

But it came close!

Christ Church's Great Hall.
All the photos in Christ Church were taken by Sarah McIntyre or Sarah's camera 
Note that the photo was taken by my illustrator pal, Sarah McIntyre (Vern & Lettuce) - this was because I was in super forgetful mode. I forgot to take my camera along and even more horrifically, forgot to take my copy of Tall Story (bad author!) - on my way to the podium, I dived into the audience and snatched a copy of Tall Story from poor defenceless Amy Butler Greenfield!

I have to admit I was a bit too flustered to enjoy my first time in a Green Room (that's the room where all the festival's celebs go), plush with supplies of tea, coffee and some harder drinks. I failed to have a good ogle at the famous people who were milling around. I did manage to get away with a packet of biscuits.

This was because there was a bit of ticket mix up and my family (who all decided to come because it also happened to be Mother's Day) were stuck at the ticket desk .

My family who all came to my talk because it was Mother's Day in the UK. And yes, I much prefer having them come to my talk than presenting me with a large bouquet of flowers and gift box of Cadbury's Whole Nut Chocolate or Ferrero Rocher.

I ran down and sort of sorted it out then ran back, except I lost my way. I managed to follow a herd of people who seemed to be going in the right direction.

"I hope they haven't started yet," one woman said.

"I'm one of the speakers," I said. "They won't start without me."  Well I sincerely hoped that they wouldn't.

In fact they didn't and very kindly moved my turn to the end to give me a chance to calm my heartbeat and so that my family wouldn't miss my part of the talk.

We authors were a bit nervous because Sunday Times critic Nicolette Jones, who organized the panel, had warned us that last year's panel did some amazing things (Frank Cottrell Boyce performed a magic trick, Ali Sparkes had some kind of object and Harriet Goodwin sang ... SANG!)

The Blue Peter panel at last year's Oxford Literary Festival

Last year's shortlist was: Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce, The Boy Who Fell Down Exit 43 by Harriet Goodwin and winner  Frozen in Time by Ali Sparkes
But we needn't have worried or attempted to juggle bunnies while riding unicycles. We were fine.

The hall was absolutely packed. And Barney, it turns out, is a superb compere, who can pluck a joke out of the air and keep the hundreds of children  in the audience entertained and engaged.

Philip spoke first and read the bit in A Web of Air in which his heroine Fever Crumb meets the angels - seagull-like birds who cry "snacksies!" just like the seagulls in Finding Nemo cry "Mine!".

Then Lauren spoke - and told this amazing story about growing up with animals in Zimbabwe with an Indiana Jones character for a dad and how her pet python (named Samantha ??!!!) once almost swallowed her. I now know the correct way to hold a python. You can see an artist's impression of Lauren and her snake here

I talked about the Philippines, the ring of fire, giants, hormones, basketball ... I think I also mentioned Finding Nemo at one point ... and had the distinct feeling that I was babbling incoherently.

Babble babble babble babble!
What was magical to me was when each of us took our turn reading from our books, the faces of the children in the audience all tilted up at the same time and they had these wonderful concentrating expressions on their faces as they listened.

Barney had asked us earlier to think of what superhero we would like to be and what would be our powers. My daughter overheard and reminded me that I used to like pretending to be the terrifying MUMZILLAH ... with eyes in the back of my head and the power to make children tidy up in a single bound. I was too polite to tell her that I wasn't pretending.

There were a few people I knew in the audience - I was delighted to see my next door neighbour of long-ago with a son she made earlier, as well as friends from SCBWI ...

My friend Anita Loughrey, who has written far too many non-fiction books, and her handsome son Joe

... and my favourite stalker, Nicole Burstein!

Me and Nicole!

Then we got to sit in a row and sign autographs. I had to make sure I got all the spellings right and write "Happy Reading" instead of "Happy Birthday" which I once did at the end of a very long signing session. There was a boy with a very cool Darth Vader t-shirt and I tried very hard not to buy it off him.

I need to have my eyes examined. I keep peering over my glasses and frightening small children and sensitive mothers.
Some dads are just too embarrassing. "Please sign this for my daughter. Her name is Nick ."

There were a few aspiring authors in the queue and I was very happy to tell them that this year's Undiscovered Voices anthology competition - which I won in 2008 and led to my getting an agent - is going to be launched tomorrow (Tuesday, April 5)!

People were arriving with piles of books for Philip to sign. That's what you get when you write a SEPTET of books. After Lauren and I finished our lot, the very lovely bookseller turned to Philip and said, "Would you mind signing a few thousand more?" 

Afterwards I was thrilled to have my picture taken with Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre who was doing an event later in the afternoon. They were both going to have a tour of the new premises of the soon-to-be  opened Story Museum later that evening. Check out Sarah's blog for an update! (Extra! Extra! Here is Philip's blog post about it!)

It was cold, I put my fleece back on.

An amazing day!

Here's an interesting thing I noticed about the Great Hall. See those round blue blob things above our heads?

The blue blobs are above each square thingy on the wooden panelling. Photo by Nicole Burstein
Up close, they look like this:

P.S. On the vexed question - so did you get a Blue Peter Badge? The answer is no. Only the winner, Lauren, got one. WAAAAAH!