Ian Whybrow

…coming soon…

Feb 28th On the Bright Side

February 28, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

It’s official (Chicago, Reuters) . Us pessimists live longer. But I’m not counting my chickens.

Weird the way February breaks off early. Still, It’s been so cheerless, generally, that I’m not sorry to see the back of it.

Enjoyed my trip to meet Alice Blacker, my new editor at Puffin and to do a bit of brainstorming with her and Kate Hayler about a new Harry picture book. These are turbulent times for books, as any fule kno, but the feeling here, about the future of picture books particularly in their traditional form was buoyant. I was sorry to have to turn down an invitation to go and speak about the importance of reading to the forum gathering next Wednesday in Rotherham for Dolly Parton’s Imagination project – but I shall be doing an event in a school in Winchester at the time.

Returned home in time to meet the man from “Chips Away” who came at last to fix the damage to the side of my car caused by a scrape-and-run driver. I was very lucky to have a witness take the number of the perp and stick with the yards of paperwork that it took to provide an official statement. “You’d be surprised how many witnesses just fade away when they realise what they’ve let themselves in for,” the case sergeant told me. I’m not, of course. The to-and-fro of calls, e-mails, messages and arrangements has seemed interminable but one of the joys of the whole sorry episode has been meeting Parvinder, the gentle Sikh expert who works 24/7 often in freezing conditions and yet remains upbeat and positive. Rain and snow have caused any number of postponements (and workless days for him) this month and he had to cancel last weekend in order to rush over to Frankfurt in Germany . “Bit of a domestic,” he told me. “But she’s my youngest sister. She was in tears on the phone. I couldn’t let her down, could I? So I jumped on a plane, talked to her. Talked to her husband. They haven’t been married long. Talked to the in-laws. We sorted it. Just a domestic. Nothing to worry.”

“In every crowd there are heroes,” says Saint-Exupery in Night Flight. And what an honour and a tonic to meet one.

24 Feb. The Doting

February 24, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

Back home and it’s still parky. Nothing between us and the Urals, as Stevie Smith always used to say about Palmer’s Green – and that’s not far away.

The ballet was a treat, though I’m not much wiser about the plot of “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” than I was before. Who was that tall girl in the white satin body stocking, the one who kept getting up on her points, shimmying like a road-drill and glowering at the other kids?

On occasions like this, the hopes and fears of the doting are as palpable as the clouds of dry ice that back-stage dads squirt liberally about. Barely suppressed Oos and aaahs drift and mingle with the not-quite-good-enough recorded music whose blaring opening chords always create rippling shock-waves, sending unwary debutantes pinging about like snooker balls.

I love the wide-eyed wobbly-headed, side-watching way that tiny girls in shiny costumes get caught in the lights. In any crowd, there’s one who knows the steps – or is confident enough to make some up – while the rest react half-a-second later, as if to some powerful magnetic force, and often in the polar-opposite direction to the general drift.

Amelie’s performance was elegant, yet restrained. While her fellow-beavers mimed shock by turtle-tucking-in their heads and gazing with open mouths and hands-to-cheeks at the humans who had popped out of the wardrobe, she simply stood still and looked puzzled – a reaction that Stanislavski would surely have applauded – and that brought tears to her granddad’s eyes.

Um … Now which one is Am?


23 Feb. Signs

February 24, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

The cold is challenging. My windscreen has cracked. Ching! That’ll be £900 plus the VAT, sir. Or report it to your insurers and get Autoglass to do it for £75 ( + an increase in your premium, bien sur).

Fifteen miles from Sudbury, yesterday, a warning light pinged on, urging me to check tyre pressures – though the check revealed no loss of pressure. I wish I could work out how to reset the warning.

Flurries of snow, as predicted, abound here in Long Melford this morning. Is it time to butter my chest and sew myself into my long-johns? – that’s what tortures me. Once they’ve peeled an A off a chap’s triple-A rating, it no longer seems quite enough simply to stride out purposefully. But Cambridge calls. Amelie’s ballet class has put out a three-line whip for supporters of the Arts, and particularly for admirers of a massed furry-animal chorus. We’re in for a dancing dose of “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” – a book I’ve recommended to countless young people without ever actually enjoying myself, tsk tsk.

“On!” cries Tom Gunn’s motor cyclist. “On! On!” cry Pozzo and Lucky. It’s the only way.

Feb 22 Spit

February 22, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

Staggered home from an extra rehearsal for our 3-choir concert at St Albans Abbey: “Requiem per Rossini” – feeling at once drained and elated by the possibilities of this extraordinary piece, soaring extracts of which our conductor played us from time to time to put our work in context.

I’d recorded the second half of the Tottenham v Lyon game as a reviving wallow. So soothed was I by the goal in the 90th minute that won the game for Spurs, that I attempted to share my pleasure with my darling. She shook her head: “Why are you telling me this?” she asked, apparently genuinely bemused. I always forget, she can’t see past the spit.

As an expression of love and solidarity, I watched the second half of Eddie Izzard’s journey via Africa in search of his ancestors with the aid of a genetic scientist. The fact that his adventure started with a good spit remained unspoken. One doesn’t like to push these things at bed time.

Feb 21 Brass Plaques, Rainbow-Coloured libraries and a few worries

February 21, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

Spent yesterday talking to children, teachers and parents at a school in Towcester. I thought I’d been there before but no, I was mixing it up with Rocester (so that’s Toaster and Roaster)

Rocester is in Staffs, not Northants, and is the home of Joseph Cyril Bamford and the factory full of wonderful yellow earth-moving machines that were given his initials. Towcester is where the race course is. Ah, the things that the Romans did for us.

At a time when so many libraries are getting the chop, it was a privilege and a delight to launch a new one especially for Key Stage 1 children, funds for which colourful pleasure-dome were gathered by dedicated teachers and parents.


Oh, and there was a little brass plaque to unveil from behind velvet curtains. So dinky!


Little Wolf’s Problem Page has been approached by Dahl class ( next to Whybrow, by the way, hem-hem; sadly a recent flood has left it uninhabitable for a while but I’ve been promised a post-refurbishment pic ). Some of these worries will test severely the small brute’s skills and experience as an Agony Nephew but there we are:

Eve – I am worried about my cat. He has started acting weird. He won’t let anyone hold him any more. Do you know what is wrong with him?

Harry – My cousin is being mean to me and shuts me in my room and doesn’t let me speak.

Olivia – My mum and her boyfriend are going to get married soon. I am worried about it.

Tom – Two of my fish died last week. I am feeling sad.


February 18, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Comments (2)

Another call to arms today. Can I gee-up some primary school boys who – guess what ?– aren’t reading. I told the long-suffering Deputy Head that I’ll do my best but boy, this is an uphill battle. The help of local footballers has already been called in but truthfully, one can’t imagine that getting children rubbing shoulders with celebrities is going to have a lasting impact on a lifetime’s indifference to books or reading matter of any kind. And observing that these men don’t read will almost certainly compound the problem.

As a little challenge or competition recently, boys in the school were asked to provide a photo of any men reading … anything. After three weeks – there were no results. Not a chap with a newspaper or shopping list in sight.

And to think that people got burnt at the stake for translating the bible into a language that ordinary people could understand. Henry VIII and his line recognised that reading=power. The present Defenders of the Faith, the corporations, the media-tycoons , the mass-marketeers: they, too, thrive on their understanding of that equation.

What can a poor parent or a teacher do for a non-reader? Be seen to be enjoying a book for a start.

Feb 17 Kew Gardens, Ducks and the Elephant Tree

February 18, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

On a Sunday as irresistibly sunny and pellucid as this, Kew calls. There are queues, naturally, in the pricy car park and again at the gate, even for the season-ticketed. But Kew swallows other people and you soon feel you have the places you want to yourself.

Snowdrops don’t do much for me these days – there are just too many of them, like daffs, littering in the hedgerows – but Kew’s crocuses and blue-billed ducks are always a shot in the arm.

And so was the elephant tree. A stranger came by as we stood admiring the jagged bark of a sweet chestnut. Perhaps that was the reason why he decided we should have a bit of a treat. “I come here three times a week,” he told us confidentially, with a tip of the head that the Aged at Wemmick’s place would have appreciated. And he led us back along the way we’d come to show us it.

I took a picture of it, not expecting much. But that’s a elephant all right.

And now it’s ours to show someone else.


Feb 16 News from Illinois hits Frettnin Forest…

February 16, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

Brian E. Wilson wrote:
Dear Mr. Whybrow,


Your book, Little Wolf’s Book of Badness, has been nominated for the 2014
Bluestem Award sponsored by the Illinois School Library Media Association. Your
book was nominated by the students of Illinois for inclusion on this year’s
master list of 20 titles that students love to read. The book was reviewed by a
panel of school and public librarians before it was chosen for the list.

Illinois students will vote for their favorite in March, 2014 to determine the
winner of the Bluestem Award. If your book is voted to receive the award, you
will be contacted with further information. The winning title will be announced
on our ISLMA social networks, press releases to major state newspapers and
organizations, and will be posted on the ISLMA website at www.islma.org.
Traditionally a formal presentation of the book award is made at our annual fall

Again, congratulations to Little Wolf’s Book of Badness for being selected to be
on the 2014 Bluestem Award master list.


Dear Brian

Thank you for your kind and cheery email telling me that Little Wolf’s Book of Badness has been nominated for a glittering prize. Loud arrrooos have resounded throughout Frettnin Forest and Smellybreff has been arrested several times for over-excitement with a carpentry set. It also gives me something to swank about on my blog.

I have tried explaining to the aforementioned small brutes the subtle difference between the words “nominated” and “awarded” but I’m not sure that I have got through, particularly to Smells.

Still, I shall approach the period of waiting much as I approach a visit to, say, a visit to a revival of a play by Brecht: i.e. by expecting the worst. And if the worst should arise and the judging panel happens to plump for one of the other nominees, there’s always the Restraining Order to fall back on. That sometimes works. For a short period, anyway.

We look forward to hearing from you again in March.
All warmest wishes
Ian Whybrow
PS No pressure, honestly.

Feb 15 Positioning

February 15, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

Feeling a bit closer to groovy this morning though I sound like a punctured squeezebox and every time I speak I cough. Began at 8.00 with a cheery if broken conversation with a friendly senior teacher from a school in Aberdeen in which we considered the implications of my flying in for a day to talk to the children about what I do. He’s going to consult and call back.

We have another summer invitation to stay with some French friends in the Alps – which has set our minds running about arrangements for family fun.

On the PLR (Public Lending Right) front, I can still boast of being in the top 10 most-read children’s authors in British libraries and No. 17 on the most-read-in-all-categories list. I read an article yesterday in which the renegade library-biter, Terry Deary calculates that if they didn’t cap what a top PLR earner gets at £6,600, he would earn £180,000 from borrowings. By his calculation, I have been robbed of only a little less, since he’s up just a few notches from me. (On telly, see?) But do I feel robbed? Not at all. I feel embraced by a system that promotes and encourages reading for no commercial gain. It’s the communities that are denied decent libraries that are robbed.

Feb 14 Le Malade et ses jardinieres

February 14, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

Not even the arrival of my PLR money – and the satisfaction of having stumbled upon a simple but resonant valentine card to amaze my darling during an emergency foray at Waitrose – can raise more than a feeble and fleeting glow today. You can’t believe how many Amoxillin there are to swallow, every one of them the size of a canoe. The paracetamol are double-kayaks that can flip sideways in the gorge and choke you in a dust sourer than mildew or ear-wax.

It’s only about fifteen or twenty yards from the back door to the shed. There are indoor bulbs that need to overwinter in there. And there are jardinieres outside with their contents drowning in snowmelt. I need to change my shoes. No. Warm coat first; it’s cold out there. Then the shoes. Then the keys. And maybe it’s time to take out the recyclable rubbish and the compostable. Decisions have to be made.

It’s not just the journey that puts unwelcome demands on the feeling-low: it’s the planning; the dread of altered ambience.

That’s enough for today. The sofa calls.