The UK Report

I just returned from a week in the UK, and it was an incredible trip.

I arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland on a rainy, cold Sunday morning, not exactly the weather we were having in Texas. The city is beautiful, though. I took a walk down Princes Street and saw the castle rock and the gardens in the valley that was once a drained loch. On Monday I traveled to the village of Linlithgow for two school visits. The Scottish children were great! Their sense of humor, I found, was very close to American school children. It’s difficult to make generalizations, but they tended to laugh at the same things, and be a little more boisterous than the English school groups I’ve talked to, though the English groups are always great, too. Thanks to Janet at Blast Off Books for setting up the visits and providing us lunch at her mom’s flat! The Scottish countryside, even on a cloudy day, is simply amazing.

Tuesday I spoke to three school groups at the Waterstone’s Bookshop in Edinburgh, and in the evening had dinner with several Scottish booksellers at the Tower Restaurant. Being at such a northern latitude, Edinburgh gets seemingly endless daylight during the summer. It was almost ten at night before the sun set, and it rose again the next morning before five. It took this Texan some getting used to! At dinner, I heard a lot of great things about the Edinburgh Festival in August. One of these days I’ll have to come back for that.

Wednesday, after another great school visit with Liberton Primary, my publicist Reetu and I hopped on a train for England and ended up in Grantham, the birthplace of Margaret Thatcher, as everyone was quick to tell me. We stayed at the Angel and Royal, which is reportedly one of the oldest inns in England. King John stayed there, and Richard III signed the Duke of Buckingham’s death warrant at the inn. I saw no ghosts, but I can well imagine they would haunt the place.

Thursday, I spoke to the Federation of Children’s Book Groups in Grantham, and we had a good crowd, especially considering it was half-term and all the kids in England were on holiday. One father and daughter came all the way from Yorkshire to attend. Thanks for coming! Afterwards, our host Julia had us over to her house for an informal chat with her Federation members. Then we hopped on the train to London and I ended the day back at the Savoy, which almost felt like home away from home since I’d just been there in March. Highlights of the day: I dared to try “spotted dick” for dessert at lunch! In case you’re wondering, it’s a spice cake. The spots are raisins. I also arrived at St. Pancras/King’s Cross station and got to see the brick wall marked “Platform 9 ¾” from the Harry Potter series.

Friday, I got an early start. I met my editor Sarah and my other publicist Adele at Paddington Station and we caught the train for Wales, bound for the Hay Literature Festival. I had been to Cardiff before, but never into the Welsh countryside, and it is absolutely gorgeous – lush, green, pastoral. Lots of sheep. Many quaint villages. Friendly people. Like Scotland, this is another place I will need to visit again when I have more time to explore.

Going to the festival, I got to share a car with Anthony Horowitz, which was a treat. Anthony gave a talk at the Red House Award ceremony in which he praised the award for being kid-centered and voted upon by kids. He said he feared other British children’s book awards sometimes did more harm than good because they tend to promote books that kids “should” read rather than books that children actually will enjoy. I wanted to stand up and cheer, “Here, here!” because this is certainly something I’ve ranted about here in the States (cough, cough, Newbery, cough, cough). In the afternoon, I was lucky enough to participate in a panel with this year’s shortlisted authors for the older readers’ category for the Red House Award – Michelle Paver, Michael Morpurgo and Sophie McKenzie. Great panel, all amazing writers, and thanks to Wendy for moderating! I spent the night at a wonderful tavern/inn called the Griffin, then it was off in the wee hours of the morning back to Gatwick. My driver picked me up at 5 AM, and I have to say, the misty valleys and hills of Wales in the sunrise made the early wake-up well worth it!

The good folks at Puffin tell me they’d like to bring me over twice again next spring – for the paperback release of Titan’s Curse, and the hardcover release of Percy 4. As always, I will look forward to more time in the UK!

Now I’m back in the Texas and very glad to have some time with family, not to mention time to write!

Rick Riordan