Doing the Disco Flamingo with Alex Milway!

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Dancing flamingos and singing cockroaches might not be the first things to spring to mind when attending an author event, but from the moment Alex Milway appeared at Imagine on Sunday, it was obvious that the audience was in for a treat! It was a sell out event- I got the last ticket!

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Much loved by children at school for his ‘Pigsiticks and Harold’ adventures, Alex’s new book, ‘Hotel Flamingo’ is a complete joy! Full of endearing characters, it offers the perfect mix of illustration, humour and a good story. So, I was delighted to find that Alex was appearing at the Imagine Festival- and even more delighted when he agreed to have a chat after his event!

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Alex introduced characters from the story by reading sections of the book (he does excellent voices!) and teaching us how to draw them. Breaking each character down into easy steps meant the children (and adults!) in the audience were really proud of their pictures. But drawing wasn’t enough! Alex sang a song about the hotel and everyone enthusiastically responded with animal noises in almost all the right places!

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Alex showed us pictures of the models he had made to help him develop the story, including Mr Roachford, one of cockroach guests welcome at the hotel- and star of his own video on YouTube!

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Named after flamingos, Anna, the new owner, employs a troupe of dancing flamingos to advertise her establishment. This led to a Flamingo Disco with children dressed in pink wings doing ‘the flamingo’ dance whilst everyone clapped along and sang!

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After all this excitement, I expected Alex to be exhausted, but after signing many books, he joined me for a cuppa and a chat! We started with the wonderful map at the front of his book. Full of detail, it really gives a context to the hotel and the town it’s set in. Would some of these places be used in future books?

The map a way of showing the world around the hotel - of building the world. I work out the layout and it makes it feel like a real location, The animals can visit places shown on the map. Book two starts here (pointing) and book three includes a carnival so it helps to know where that will go.

So why flamingos?

It was quite a dark time personally when I was writing it so I wanted the place to be bright and happy- and what’s brighter than a flamingo?! Loving the Art Deco style, I added lots of design details from that period. Feathers fitted well into this and flamingos are so bright- perfect!

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Did the illustrations come first or the idea for the story?

The idea came from one of my daughters playing with her toys. The story came as a mixture of words and pictures. The artwork informs the writing. Making a model of the hotel really helped me work things out- it took months of doing bits in the evenings, but I’m good at having patience for this kind of project.

New characters come very much as pictures first. It gives you so many ideas about what they are like and helps develop their personality. If you draw places, you are able to describe them so much better as well.

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Is Hilary (the cleaning hippo) based on someone you know?!

She’s not just a cleaner- she’s had other careers too! She is an extreme version of our cleaner who we couldn’t do without! Very loosely based on her!

Music was central to your session. Do you have a musical background?

Yes. I play cello as well as guitar and other stringed instruments. It’s very important to me. When I started writing, I had no idea I would have to do events like this. Now you have to offer something different. Writing songs, making costumes, drawing- it all makes the sessions fun and that’s so important!

What do you think of the lack of publicity given to the winners of the LOLLIEs and to funny books in general?

It’s an issue. Books should be funny- we have stickers which some bookshops have agreed to put on books saying that they are just that. I’m involved in working with others on this at the moment. Watch this space…

At this point, I was very aware that Alex’s family were waiting for him so said goodbye! Many thanks to Alex (and his family for waiting so patiently!) and to Tina for arranging the meeting. I’m looking forward to visiting Hotel Flamingo again soon!

You can read our review of Hotel Flamingo here.

The 'gorgeous and humble' Mr Philip Ardagh!

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On Sunday, I went to the Imagine Festival Festival at the South Bank Centre where my first event was to see Philip Ardagh discussing the latest of his secret diaries books, ‘The Secret Diary of Kitty Cask’. This is an excellent series of historical stories which mix humour and facts set in different periods of English history. The first three are very popular with my class- I have just had to buy replacement copies for the library- so I was very keen to hear from the man himself.

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Philip started by explaining how he wrote these books for the National Trust and discussed the role of the NT in protecting the countryside, the coastline and special buildings across the country.

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With lots of laughs and fun facts, the gorgeous and humble Mr Ardagh introduced Kitty Cask, her father and other characters from his new book. Despite the heat, he himself bravely donned the costume of a customs officer and dressed up various children from the audience to explore the life of a smuggler. This proved to be a very entertaining and hazardous experience even through the children were not allowed a real flintlock pistol or chains.

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The event finished with a quiz about expressions commonly used in the eighteenth century. The whole session was pacy, extremely funny and very interesting. And Mr Ardagh was gorgeous and humble… well, that’s what he told me to say!

The Secret Diary of Kitty Cask Philip Ardagh, illustrated by Jamie Littler

Nosy Crow and the National Trust ISBN: 978-1788000574

You can read our review of John Drawbridge here, Jane Pinny here and Thomas Snoop here.

Hot Key Books: 'Women of History' Blogger Brunch!

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Today, I made made my way to Wimpole Street to the home of Bonnier Zaffre for their Women of History Blogger brunch. Before I had even arrived, I was completely captivated by this area and its fabulous buildings. So much history! There were blue plaques everywhere and I found myself wandering the streets around here, gazing up and colliding with innocent pedestrians.

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The wonderful people at Hot Key Books had laid on the most delicious array of pastries, doughnuts and all manner of tempting treats for us to enjoy. The room was buzzing with anticipation as people introduced themselves and chatted about the event to come and all the things they have been reading. There’s nothing like being with fellow bibliophiles!

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Everyone had gathered to hear Heather Morris (author of The Tattooist of Auschwitz) and Lucy Adlington (The Red Ribbon) discussing their books. The Tattooist of Auschwitz was inspired by the incredible true love story of Lale Sokolov and his wife, Gita, which began when they were prisoners in Auschwitz concentration camp and Hot Keys are publishing a YA version of the book this May. Lucy’s book was inspired by the dressmakers of Auschwitz and is a mixture of truth and fiction.

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As soon as the ladies appeared, everyone quickly settled and what followed was one of the most fascinating events I have attended. Heather spoke about meeting Lale, listening to his incredible story, her determination to share this with others and the powerful reaction this has provoked in others. It was an emotionally charged afternoon, dealing with such raw material and yet both ladies managed to keep the general mood light as there was an excellent rapport between them.

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Heather read from the end of The Tattooist and told us about her next book, ‘Cilka's Journey’ which will be published in October. Having told us some of the background to this story, it will be essential reading. Lucy also read from her new book, ‘Summerland’ which will be published by Hot Key Books in September.

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It was all over much too soon with everyone eagerly waiting to have their books signed. A massive thank you to both ladies for such an interesting and enjoyable session and to those at Hot Key for arranging everything- including those fabulous cakes!

The Tattooist of Auschwitz Heather Morris

Bonnier Zaffre ISBN: 978-1785763670

The Red Ribbon Lucy Adlington

Hot Key Books ISBN: 978-1471407161