Background artiste from 'Better than Stars'

Thursday, 26 January 2012

The Future's Here, and It's Electrik!

Electrikinc, to be precise. And it's sparked off with a bang, drawing attention from the Bookseller and across the Channel  [apologies for the fact that you have to be a subscriber to read the first article and to speak French to understand the second: who said publicity was easy to get? And at least on the second link you can see the cover for Kim Donovan's St Viper's School for Super Villains].

Yes, Electrikinc is a publication venture, but one with a difference. A small group of Bath Spa graduate children's authors, with some impressive editorial skills between them, have got together as a co-operative to publish their own work. It looks to me like a promising alternative to the pitfalls of self-publication; and crucially one which embraces the advantages of new technology. Kim's book will be first to hit the market - I would say shelves, but of course the name is a bit of a giveaway. Electrikinc will focus on e-publishing and print on demand ... which has led me once again to think about electronic vs. paper books.

What do you think?

I try not to make judgements about things where I have no personal experience, and I have yet to read a book on-screen. I'm bombarded by other people's opinions, and the observation I've made is:

People who don't have an e-reader don't like them. People who do, do. But they would, wouldn't they, in both cases? No-one's going to buy one unless they like the idea in the first place.

Maybe that's a clue to the truth: for the time being at least, there are going to be those who prefer one or the other; I've even heard people say they like both, but for different purposes: e.g. paper for books to treasure, and electronic for books to take on holiday.

I can't help noticing Electrikinc will be offering print on demand. Perhaps what we're witnessing is not so much the death of the physical book, more the end of its primacy, and of the long print run.

One thing's for certain: I'm going to have to get that e-reader.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

A Monster of a Book: 'Beast' by Ally Kennen

You will want to read Beast. The reptilian eye staring at you from the cover will make sure of that. In fact, if you like good YA fiction you will probably have read it already. I don't know why I hadn't til now. After all, I saw that cover first of all in a prospectus for the writing MA I was about to take, where Ally is a well remembered past graduate. Like I said, the eye's been watching me. I suppose I knew it had the patience of a crocodile lurking in the shallows. It could wait, because we both knew it was going to get me in the end.

On the face of it, Stephen is everyone's worst kind of disaffected teenager, with a history of crime and antisocial behaviour: twocking, arson, substance abuse. But judgement is impossible, because you are forced to see life from his point of view.You know all about his hopeless background, and the way in which his damaged life has forced him to wall up any capacity to believe in himself or to trust those who try to offer him care.

But this novel is no bleeding heart criticism of social conditions. Whatever your views about young people who kick against society, you have to admit that the dominant problem in Stephen's life is a real one. It's twelve foot long and he's been feeding it a pig a month.

Here lie the reasons for the book's success. For all his apparent faults, Stephen is a totally convincing and thoroughly engaging character. You can't help empathising with him. Having a terrible secret which you feel sets you apart and that can be told to no-one is a normal condition of adolescence, although in most people's experience it's something less alarming than a predatory pet big enough to eat your own father. It's impossible not to admire Stephen's determination and resourcefulness, and the clues are there right from the beginning to his good heart: from his affection for his little brother, through his care for his foster sister's paralytically drunk boy friend, to the fact that he never considered leaving the young crocodile to die when it would have been so much easier to do so.

In a feat of skilful plotting, the book torments alternately with the hope of a better life for Stephen, and the threat of a terrible destiny. As the pressure builds, occasional flashes of desperate humour will make you want to laugh out loud.

In the end, we are convinced that Stephen deserves a a happy ending, but he has to rid himself of the monster first.

Have I stumbled on a metaphor? But that's what's so good about this book. It's as gripping as any young person could wish for, whilst at the same time offering the very best in writing.


Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Working Through the Block

Well, not exactly a block. I've been stuck for days - *blushes* more like weeks - on the same sequence I'm trying to add into the rewrite of Stars. I thought I was finding it difficult because I lacked the excitement of creating new work - or maybe I was missing the pressure of a deadline (see How Do You Keep Going When Nobody Cares? below) - or possibly just being lazy.

All those things are probably true, but what I've now realised is that I was mostly finding it tough because the passage was wrong from the start. It wasn't working, and I needed to approach it completely differently. Somewhere inside I knew that all along.

As soon as I saw that, I was able to rewrite most of it at a sitting. Now I'm poised to move on. Yay!

The question is, was it a waste of time crawling more and more slowly up that blind alley, or did I need to do it in order to see the right path? Far from being redundant, was it actually necessary?

One thing I'm sure of: if you stick at it, you never stop learning.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Hunger Games vs Twilight

Well? I know which I prefer ... In fact, the one is so much better than the other in my opinion, I never even thought to compare them until I saw this article in the Metro.

I first heard about the Twilight novels from an American friend of mine, before they'd reached the UK. Her passion for the series was a foretaste of what was about to hit us, and when they were published here I read the first book.

I could see why it was popular, and I'm all for books being popular. Twilight has done for YA publishing what Harry Potter did for books for younger readers - even stolen one of its stars - what is it about Patso that links him cinematically to death? I also thought it was profoundly silly. I mean, a brooding, sexy but chaste vampire who is all but unattainable and glitters, for goodness sake ... I could almost forget we're reading about the undead, and think instead it's a teenage girl's dream of a rock star. But like I said, don't knock it. Clever stuff.

Hunger Games, on the other hand, is seriously good. Like all the best dystopian fantasy, it grows out of the development of aspects of our own society, in this case - amongst other things - social division, screen violence and the reality show. It engages completely, with skilful writing, believable characters and a tense plot.

As a reader, no contest between the books; nor as a writer: I know which I would like to emulate. And I also know which I would prefer a daughter of mine to read. The society Suzanne Collins writes about may be sick, but her heroine Katniss is feisty, resourceful and honest; and her book makes you think, rather than wallow in sentiment.

But hold on a minute ... I'm not the target audience here. Teenage years are a time for many things, including being silly. I seem to remember it was rather fun.

Perhaps I should remember my age and shut up ... and also be grateful that at least two authors are doing their bit for the popularity of the book.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Hooray for Quentin Blake stamps!

I was chuffed to send out a sample stamped with one of these brilliant Roald Dahl designs. I can't help feeling my submission will do so much better with sympathetic franking.

I am right, aren't I? I'm not being pathetic?

What are your submission superstitions? I never re-send returned samples, however recent or pristine. I just know they will have absorbed the negativity, and the next person will be able to tell. Of course it's a terrible waste, but I recycle them by printing rough drafts on the other side ... Hang on.

What if the bad vibes seep through?

So much to worry about ...