Background artiste from 'Better than Stars'

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

In-Fested - or why I like the children's literature festival

What's good about festivals? And the Bath Kids' Lit Fest in particular?

Bath Festival of Children's Literature

I know one answer ... it's a great event for kids who love books, a festival children bring their parents to rather than the other way round - but there are others better qualified than me to talk about that. Children, for instance. What's in it for someone like me, who keeps turning up to volunteer as a steward? It's not the T-shirts, that's for sure. Buttercup yellow. Need I say more? Nor am I especially altruistic: so I must be hoping to get something out of it.

Originally I thought I was going to sit at the feet of authors I admire, and learn ... and I have, but not much about writing: there are better contexts for that. It's been more about professionalism, and the whole business of being an author.

Perhaps I'm trying to get close to successful writers in the hope that something will rub off ... that looks slightly unpleasant now I've written it down.

Forget networking. There's nothing like being behind the scenes of a festival as an unagented, unpublished writer to make yourself realise exactly how low in the food chain you really are. And it's surprising how invisible you become when you're wearing a uniform ... those T-shirts again. Of course, you could always buy a book, queue up, get it signed and raise your status by becoming a fan. I did get into email conversation with an author a couple of years ago, but that was a result of attending an event as a punter.

Really it's none of these - or all of it, plus something else that's just as important. I've realised why I feel so good this week. The Festival is a celebration of children's literature, and a chance for people who care about it to get together. I'm sure the authors feel this too. It reminds us writing isn't always something you do on your own.

Either that, or it's an excuse to get away from the computer keyboard ... Nah. I can't wait to hang up the yellow T-shirt and get writing again. I'm inspired

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

How wild are today's children's books?

Where the Wild Things Are

Great article here about the legendary author Maurice Sendak, whose book Where the Wild Things Are is an absolute classic of scary kids' stuff. As he says - ironically I assume -

"You mustn't scare parents. And I think with my books, I managed to scare parents."

I'd like to counter with Neil Gaiman's Coraline, one of the scariest books for adults or children I have ever read. I heard him tell the story that's well known now, about how he and his publisher (or agent?) were unsure whether it was too frightening to publish, so a child test-read it for them. She said it didn't scare her, but has since confessed that it did, but she knew that if she told anyone she'd never get to read the end. Nuff said.

You don't get much scarier than the average folk tale (Red Riding Hood, for instance; and the original version of Cinderella in which the ugly sisters cut off bits of their feet to try and get them into the slippers. No-one noticed until they started dripping blood.) Surely the point is that stories give the opportunity to confront the fear in a safe place.

Do you think children should be protected from frightening books? Or can you think of other contemporary children's novels that are as edgy and dark as Sendak's and Gaiman's?

Sunday, 18 September 2011

What Writers Need Most ...

... Maximum Credit

Thanks to The Scribbling Sea Serpent's recommendation, I've recently been reading Maximum Ride, and it's taught me a lot. It's aimed at an audience I've been trying to write for, and as such it's a good model. It cracks along at a tremendous pace, narrated by a strong, funny protagonist who speaks to you as if you're flying alongside her.

Yes, I really did say that. Flying. Because this book underlines the point I made in my previous post Desperately Seeking a Story: it's the story, or the idea behind it, that matters most. James Patterson, one of the bestselling contemporary authors for all ages, has written a highly successful series driven by the amazing idea of kids who can fly. What young reader could resist that?

I've spent my writing time over the last few days trying to extract a single viable story from a novel I abandoned within sight of the end four years ago. I dropped it at the time because I realised it consisted of two incompatible plots hopelessly entangled. I left them to their efforts to strangle each other and got on with writing another two books, but now I'm back working on the same MS. Why? Because it contains an idea I still believe has potential. And I'm prepared to make major changes: partly to free it from its evil twin, and mostly to incorporate the huge amount I've learned about writing since I wrote it. Trouble is, I'm also finding lots I want to keep: characters I'm fond of, scenes and passages of dialogue that seem to work, the story itself ...


I've been trying to write seriously now for about 6 years. In that time I've thought of loads of story openings, but there are only a few I feel I could develop into whole books. The number of good, original ideas that could drive a plot is even fewer. These are my most precious stocks in trade, yet it's one of these I'm keeping wrapped up in a tired old story I created when I was just starting out.

This is what I've learned from James Patterson. Maximum Ride is a good read, and it's holding me, an adult, strongly enough to make me want to finish it. He's got the important things right - character, voice, urgency of plotting - and the whole thing is driven by a powerful idea.

Our good ideas are our most valuable possessions, and they deserve to be shown off in the best of settings.

Looks like I'm going to have to start again.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

What Would You Do to Get Published?

Apart from selling your soul that is, or any other personal strategies you'd rather keep to yourself. What I mean is, how much would you be prepared to change your novel to please a third party, if the stakes were high?

"Not at all!" we cry - but hang on, who's taking the financial risk here (unless you're self-publishing, which is another story altogether)? And who has the more knowledge and experience? As I blogged last week, a good title is really hard to find: I'd be grateful for any help I could get.

The title goes. I wouldn't be happy about seeing the book in a cover I didn't like: but I have even less skill in that area. So would I be prepared to hand over control of the MS completely?

Of course not. For me, the crunch point would be when changes stopped it being recognisably my novel, and that would be different for each book: the protagonist's name for one, the outcome for the other ... probably.

Or who am I kidding? Is anything sacred?

What do you think?

Saturday, 3 September 2011

More to Follow

Last week I was thrilled to receive a 'One to Follow' award from Kate, The Scribbling Sea Serpent, which I customised as a Mole Award. It marked a new development in my still-rather-damp-and-newly-hatched career as a blogger, and it did some great things for me, but it was a bit scary too.

The great things were - welcoming new visitors to my blog! Good to see you; - and it pointed the way to other blogs I've enjoyed visiting since, and where I've signed up as a follower.

The scary thing was the injunction to "pass it on." Now I believe very much in the principle of this, which is why for instance if someone wants change for a locker at the swimming pool and I don't have enough to make up the sum, I give them the small coin they need and tell them to do the same when it happens to them. Good things are even better when shared. But it was also scary, because I didn't really know my way round enough to recommend ten other blogs. Here however a few I've discovered which I don't think are on Kate's list. - a lively and interesting blog by a young scientist and writer - a thoughtful blog by a debut writer - not so much a blog: more an excellent way of keeping up with everything that's going on in the publishing for young people industry. I've been following this one for some time.

And finally: Eden wanted a Mole and I'm delighted to award one to her. Unfortunately access to her site is restricted, so if you want to read her entertaining blog on life and writing, you'll have to ask to be invited. There's a link on my page which will give you a taste, but it's to an old post. Say Sue sent you.

And finally, before I pass on the award (you'll have to prise it from my unwilling fingers, and then of course you have to pass it on too) I'd like to take a last opportunity to thank everyone: my partner, my cat, my hairdresser, the person who delivers the paper ... ouch! Lemmego! It's mine ...

Thursday, 1 September 2011

What (also) Makes a Great Book Title?

I was interested in this article, Three Elements of a Killer Title. I've struggled to find a title for my first book, currently appearing as Peregrin Zefyr and the Timehiker - not my favourite choice, but the nearest I could get to something that did the trick, IMHO ... and which had not already been bagged by somebody else.

I was not short of ideas, and they must have been good ones. I googled each one as I thought of it, and most of them are already out there attached to recently published books for children.

According to the writer of the post, the title needs to represent the story, add intrigue and sound good. I'd have to add, you also need to be the first person to think of it.

Ho hum.