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An Evening With Maureen Johnson: Newcastle upon Tyne

England did put on its best face (i.e a rainy one) for the inaugural book talk on Maureen Johnson’s book tour. In Newcastle, yay! The lovely Brunwsick Methodist Church gave it something of a ‘secret society’ feel as well as a regal wooden podium that she could maneuver like a prop. Johnson has had enough time in the UK to know the word Geordie but not what it meant (to which the Waterstones team were able to give an eloquent answer about the Jacobite era. Being from the Toon has never sounded so historical!)

First of all, if you’ve ever seen Johnson’s tweets? SHE’S JUST LIKE THAT IN REAL LIFE. Bubbly. Hilarious (the mostly young female geek-chic audience spent most of the time in giggles), and with stories that are too weird to not be true (“my life is like a cartoon character”).

She explained how it’d work: we’d ask questions, she’d start to answer it, go on a tangent, forget the question but somehow get back. So, being in London and being taken to a restaurant in the back of a flower shop where she was fed raw pancakes … turned into a bizarre story of staying at Judy Blume’s house when they were sight seeing the Florida Keys (“we’d never met Judy Blume”) with the tie in being that she’d also been fed raw pancakes by the restaurant (“I didn’t tell them as I was sure that Judy Blume would burn their restaurant down).

Other crazy-life stories included her dog (she got twitter to social pressure the puppy adoption people to let her have it, and like Sirius in the Twilight Barking, everyone seems to think it’s a different kind of dog) and weird neighbours (one UK word: ASBO).

There were some more serious/book related questions as well. One of my questions was on the UK/US divide in knowledge: as it turns out, she gets questions in the States about the UK parts of her book to the point that she wonders whether it’d be easier to have separate versions. In regards to writing, she “believes in the muse of starting work at 10am”, and assured aspiring writers in the audience that “that sense of not believing that your work is any good? That never goes away”. She also noted the miraculous recoveries from stress and nerves that authors have when they hand in their books. She mentioned that writing is wonderful in its flexibility in that a lot of her fellow writers work around disability (“standing desks are a big thing in the writing world”).

In regards to the YA scene, she loves how social and friendly the writer community is, and that as a writer she can “make left turns” in regards to tone and genre that she feels aren’t an option in adult lit, and that the YA readership just read widely and avidly in a way that isn’t so common in adults.

All up, she’s well worth catching even if you’re not particularly versed in her books (she did ask if there were any people who didn’t know who she was and had just been dragged along. There were two). I do wish there was a way to get e-books signed, but I went for another copy of The Name of the Star anyway and got to mock-gasp when she called me Australian (to be honest, it happens all the time, but it’s fun to be dramatic).

And a nice “you had to be there to get it” tweet about the event:


Toon people, keep an eye out for her tomorrow at Seven Stories, and everyone else see if she’s near you on her book tour. (And thanks Hot Key Books for the ticket I won on twitter even though I was going to pay for one anyway!)