A Real Humdinger Children’s Book Festival in Derry/Londonderry!

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Humdinger (noun)…a remarkable or extraordinary person or thing of its kind. And that’s exactly what I got when I attended the Humdinger Children’s Book Festival in Derry/Londonderry with Little Missy at the weekend. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see Roddy Doyle who kicked off the festival on Thursday but all the other big names in children’s books were still around on Saturday and come hell or high water I was going! Not even the flu was going to stop me! I woke up on Saturday morning with a scratchy throat and yucky head cold but armed with all sort of remedies to make me feel better I arrived just before 9.30am at the Dog Ears Head Quarters for the Writing for Children’s Workshop. 

The festival brochure promised that Humdinger would inspire a love for reading for years to come, and there is no doubt about that as their programme showcased fun, family friendly and innovative events over three days in a number of venues across the city but ‘wanna be writers’ were definitely not left out. What a lineup!  Meg Rosoff, Alex T. Smith and Malachy Doyle among others, were proudly introduced by Laura of Dog Ears. 

My biggest challenge was trying to keep my nose clean and not cough too much but the morning was informal and full of magical inspiration. Creative therapist, Ursula McHugh from the Playhouse set the mood before highly acclaimed writer and multi award-winning author Meg Rosoff, whose books I have feasted on a few times, encouraged us to find our own unique writer’s voice. It was encouraging to learn that even Meg Rosoff can get ‘stuck’ sometimes. Writing is not always fun and flowing, more like drawing blood out of bad veins. Still, if you can find your unique voice there is a possibility that someone might just like it. So forget about being precious, send out your voice and keep writing and rewriting!

Up next was the very talented writer and illustrator Alex T Smith who was born to do what he is doing. He had brought along some of his earlier work and drawings and talked about how his grandparents influenced his choice of career and his stories. He likes to keep things simple while developing quirky ideas that make his books fun for both adults and children to read. Keeping it entertaining, Malachy Doyle read from his Too Noisy book and he encouraged us to keep writing, rewriting and rewriting as persistence is a key ingredient of success. AND he has written a ton of children’s books so he should know! Then it was our turn to perform or at least pretend to be Jamaican for a short while with the energetic and colourful creators of Rastamouse Genevieve Webster and Michael De Souza who started off self publishing before Rastamouse became one of Cbeebies hit shows.

David Maybury, co-editor of Inis magazine and Freelance Editor at Penguin finished the workshop by providing an invaluable insight into the publishing industry but unfortunately I didn’t hear all he had to say as I was rushing off to meet up with Little Missy to go and see Julia Donaldson in The Millennium Forum. It was pure magic, reliving all the old favourites that I had read to my children one hundred zillion times including Zog, A Squash and a Squeeze, The Snail and the Whale and, of course, that fearful Gruffalo and friendly mouse was there too!

Dashing up to the Playhouse afterwards, we managed to see the Rastamouse team in action again followed by refreshments and a talk delivered by Derek Kielty, début author of Will Gallows. Derek shared some writing tips and exciting news as well. A while back, Elton John’s Rocket Pictures, which produced Gnomeo and Juliet, called him up and expressed an interest in adapting Will Gallows into a kid-friendly film. Exciting stuff! David also read from his first book in the series which he kindly gave to Little Missy after a little autograph session. We rushed home with empty bellies but my head wasn’t full of the cold so much as it was full of inspiration. After we got fed, I went upstairs to persist and rewrite for a while before retiring with a good read. When I peeked in to check on Sleeping Beauty this is what I found…


 Little Missy, under the covers, laughing out loud…

Tonight she asked me if I would go on Amazon and order up the second book in the series as she is now half way through the first one. I’m beginning to wonder if the bookworms I am rearing think Amazon is some sort of genie lamp! But I shall keep granting their wishes if it keeps them turning pages and Humdinger obviously achieved what it set out to achieve – to inspire a love for reading!

Dog Ears wanted to do something amazing for UK City of Culture 2013 and they did it. They hosted one humdinger of a festival for children and adults alike. It felt like Fionnuala, Laura, Jackie, John and Trisha had moved New York and London a little closer to home and pulled out all the stops to give us a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet some best-loved authors and illustrators while providing endless possibilities to get crafty and creative in the many workshops on offer. Thank you to all at Dog Ears. Great job! Magical festival! Cheers Dog Ears!

If you want to find out more about Dog Ears or the Humdinger Children’s Book Festival check out www.cheersdogears.com



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