Tonight I attend ‘More of Me’ Book Launch II for my dear friend Kathryn Evans – a special for the inhabitants of Chichester and its hinterland. If I have time after I return from the dentists in the afternoon, I shall wear an outrageous green dress. I have heard that green dresses are unlucky – green being the colour of the fair folk – but I have no wish to bring ill-fortune to my colleague. Rather  a dusting of lucky fairy dust…

Cover design by Hannah Cobley at Usborne

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My Fountain Overflows

…with apologies to Rebecca West’s many admirers.

I could précis Ali Sparkes’ talk. I took enough notes, for goodness’ sake, but I’d advise you go listen to her yourself. Nothing beats coming up close and personal with a ‘real author’.

Best Boots in Show – Hay on Wye

But I will pick up on a few points. Her story as a writer included ‘a stack of the loveliest rejections’. What mad profession is it that we value the ‘unfortunately...’ responses?  I hope and trust that it is because our driving force is always to write better stories – and that rejections with a hint of encouragement egg us on to try harder.

Ali was nothing if not realistic. Her recount made us well aware how hard she has worked for her success – brain-frazzlingly hard at times.Yet her liveliness and engagement with her work meant this was not off-putting, more reassuring. The same goes when I see my published colleagues’ amazing spread of work.

There were far more of my friends’ books – but I am a rubbish photographer. This is the only vaguely decent snap.

Not only was she rather purple – she was practical. Here are few of the tips I picked up on:

  • self-edit as you go
  • if you’re lucky, you’ll make a living – just
  • hit deadlines
  • do not throw a hissy fit – ever
  • read your work aloud
  • allow plenty of time for marketing
  • consider a professional editor
  • don’t underestimate the time and effort involved in self-publishing
  • fake it !

Not actually from our event – but you get the idea.

Plenty of food for thought – and plenty of food for the tummy too

Now my main purpose in going to this event was to ‘refill my well’. A couple of disappointments had left me feeling less than passionately motivated about my own work. I try to find something inspiring at least once a month to keep me going. Oh, did I get a bumper topping-up at The Fountain.

Not only did I see my  lovely Scoobie chums – but they waxed lyrical about books they had brought to swap. Few things give me more of a boost than the love of readers for books – and the sheer joyous diversity of literature. It helps me believe there could be a curious little corner for my kind of history-with-magical-realism told in a distinctly Northern voice.

What a fascinating list:

  • Things my mother never told me – Blake Morrison
  • Private Peaceful – Michael Morpurgo
  • Trash – Andy Mulligan
  • Paranormalcy – Kiersten White
  • Midnight is a Place – Joan Aiken
  • A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
  • Double Shadow – Sally Gardner
  • The Knife of Never Letting Go – Patrick Ness
  • Once – Maurice Gleitzman
  • Room – Emma Donoghue
  • Framed! -Frank Cottrelll Boyce
  • The Animals of Farthing Wood – Colin Dann
  • Sky Hawk – Gill Lewis
  • The Girl who fell Beneath Fairyland and led the Revels there – Catherynne M. Valente

So in short I’m full to the brim – thanks Ali, Kathryn, Mariam,  Zella, Denyse, Julie, Penny, Jill, Jane, Jan, Jeanette, and Colin from Hayling Island Bookshop.

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Bubbling up

Tonight, Thursday 7th February 2013, Chi-SCBWI is having its first public event -organised by the lovely Kathryn Evans & Mariam Vossough . I’m really looking forward to it.

I love books.

The theme is the romance of books – originally conceived as a retort to that over-commercialised festival later on this month. Certainly, all the people I know that are attending do love books in whatever form they are presented.

We are holding the event in The Fountain. This old inn dating from 1798 in Chichester’s Southgate has a suitable pedigree for all things literary. There are ghosts – a Roman soldier (to go with the bits of Roman wall inside), and a man and his dog.

I wonder if they will like our bookish chatter?

The inn was once kept by George and Sarah Neal – the grandparents of H.G.Wells (his mother was in service at Uppark not so very far away). In my researches for Georgiana and the Municipal Moon  – the city of Selchester not being entirely unlike Chichester I found The Fountain was originally run by one Lucy Ladkin. Further nosiness led me to discover she lived till at least 83 in retirement at Fishbourne. Glorious.

He looks like a jolly soul.

Who knows what further literary triumphs will spring up from this event?

If nothing else it should be fun, as we are having the lovely Ali Sparkes to talk to us, we are swapping books we love (so tricky to choose!) and eating cake.

Ali with her old biology teacher and a blow-up turtle. As you do.

I may even partake of a little Tanglefoot as the bus is my taxi.

Now there’s a source of inspiration!

There may be to follow…


The cave you fear…

…holds the treasure you seek. (Joseph Campbell)

People ask me why I choose to write for younger readers. Apart for the wonderful freedom on offer, (which I have posted about here) there is also the company of fellow children’s writers.

I belong to SCBWI-BI. The lovely Kathy Evans talks about reasons to join here. I would add more to her celebratory post. It’s warm-hearted people like all of Chi-SCBWI, and Candy Gourlay and Nick Cross and Nicky Schmidt and…and…and…far too many to mention that I need.

Some of the stuff I do frightens me.

I’m going into parts of my self that are dark and hidden and oppressive.

I really appreciate my support team standing at the surface, cracking jokes, willing me to come back safely, egging me on to go further. All the messages about my recent successes have astonished and delighted me.( A bit of a sugar rush, to be honest.) It may well be that other writers are equally close-knit – but I know I can rely on this lot.

Thank you fellow children’s  writers- and I promise to hold the rope while you go exploring.




Good things come in threes, too.

Number One
I’m off to Chi-Scbwi tonight, thanks to a lift from my good friend, Kathryn Evans. Several times a year a bunch of us local writers and artists get together and have a chinwag. It’s great – we are all at different ages and stages – and we support each other as only creative types can! ( make of that what you will)
Number Two
I have finished the first draft of Georgiana and the Municipal Moon (working title) today. 86k all told – a lot of which is piffle – but now I can have my own NaNoEdMo, if you see what I mean.
Number Three
My MA novel,  The Selkies of Scoresby Nab, has been long-listed for the Mslexia Children’s Novel Competition. Hoorah!

It’s not me. Honest.

‘Psst – wanna do something illegal?’

Truth told, Kathy Evans didn’t quite put it like that – but I did get the chance to go with her to the launch of Miriam Halahmy‘s ‘Illegal’ at Blackwell’s Bookshop, Portsmouth University . She mentioned it on Facebook and I blagged a lift – she is a delightful chauffeuse, I have to say (or I might have to go in the boot in future.)

As a writer, you don’t tend to get out a lot. It’s a solitary business – so a bit of human contact is good. Not only that but the outside world provides its own stimulus. Even a change of scenery can prompt better writing – and going anywhere near a place of learning – well…

There is more. I was glad to see Anita Loughrey and Amanda Lillywhite there – more SCBWI pals. Regular readers will know how much I value the fellowship that SCBWI offers. Not only do they understand the obsession you have, they share it too  – and encourage you in your lunacy. That’s some support network.

I hope Miriam felt suitably encouraged.

It isn’t just about the friendships, though. There is also a good chance of meeting agents and publishers at launches. You might build up other contacts such as publicists – and it does no harm to be seen.

However, it was when Miriam read the beginning of ‘Illegal’ that I found the most personal reason to be there. People from a fair old variety of decades and types stood and listened. They went  into that little world that Miriam had squashed inside the pages of her book. It wasn’t a world that I could make. It wasn’t marketed at the readers I write for – but the story still existed. And that’s what mattered to me – one day it could be me. People might want to enter my little worlds.

I need that hope to hang on to.

Thank you, Miriam and Kathy.

All that is gold does not glitter

This week I thoroughly enjoyed this blog post by Meg Rossoff  and the reply from Kathryn Evans here. Both wrote fascinating and well-constructed accounts of their intriguing lives. I feel honoured to have such brilliant people among my friends and acquaintances – and I know very many of you reading this could come up with equally extraordinary autobiographies.(Please do – I’d love to read them.)

But I also felt very humble. I haven’t done anything half so interesting – I’ve had a rather dull little life. How can I possibly account myself a writer in amongst these wondrous folk?

Well, I do have that essential quality for a writer – imagination.

My CV may not include the distillation of noxious herbs and their application to vile old women ( you’ll be glad to read), I may not be qualified to mount the most spectacular fireworks display in a ruined priory – nor am I actually able to shape-shift and explore the depths of the North Sea – but I can dream these things up.

And I am something of a pirate – I raid books and magazines and TV programmes and films and other people’s conversations. I sneak off with the shiny bits and clothe myself in their finery. I can nab a bit of someone else’s life and try it on for size: the more magnificent, the better.

Sometimes I even dress that way.

So my friends, if you are like me, a bit commonplace, it’s fine. The source of your writing may not be obvious.

Even a little grey pigeon can be a peacock on the inside.


What sort of writer do you want to be?

The viva voce for my MA in Creative Writing was on Monday. I have passed ( thanks to superb tuition from Greg Mosse) – and I am immediately wondering which subset in the Venn diagram of authors I should inhabit.

I’ve been asked to consider writing for adults. Straight off I flinch at that. I will admit to an entire Harry Ramsden’s on my shoulder about the status of children’s writers. It is compounded of my experience as a teacher that your rank is in direct proportion to the age of the children taught; the same impulse that made the ‘Children’s Writing IS a proper job’ badge sell out so quickly in November 2010, and Martin Amis’s remarks in February about brain injury and writing for children. The subtext is that writing for adults is somehow better, cleverer, more valuable.

Well, I’m with John Dougherty:

Don’t worry Martin. We can’t all be imaginative and versatile.

One of the things I admire most about the literature published for young people is the sheer range and breadth of ideas. Big ideas, written for people who will not be blinded by the effulgent beauty of your prose nor give one microfortnight of attention to reviews by your literary chums.

It is notable that David Almond (a literary hero to me) found a sense of liberation in writing for the young. I am put in mind of this concept:

Australian Aborigines say that the big stories—the stories worth telling and retelling, the ones in which you may find the meaning of your life—are forever stalking the right teller, sniffing and tracking like predators hunting their prey in the bush.

Robert Moss, Dreamgates 

Quite simply, I believe young people are more likely to be receptive to the stories following me about and asking to be told than adults. And I bother to write because of my belief in those same young people, and what stories are for.

 Every word written, every sentence, every story, no matter how dark the story itself might seem, is an act of optimism and hope, a stay against the forces of destruction.

David Almond, Hans Christian Anderson Award acceptance speech

Now before I get all too Messianic, I’d also like to point out that despite all the moaning of the pessimists, the children’s book market is thriving. According the ‘The Bookseller’ in 2001 it was worth £193 million – and in 2010 £325 million. Christopher Paolini’s ‘Inheritance’ sold more than 76,000 copies in UK in first week of publication this November.
Hilary Mantel’s ‘Wolf Hall’ (Man Booker winner) ? 14,600.
Children’s books often demonstrate the effectiveness of long tail marketing: they carry on being bought long after the brass bands and banners have left town.
It’s possible for me and my colleagues to do well.
When I decided to get serious about writing, I read Alison Baverstock’s unsettling but finally very useful ‘Is there a Book in You?’. She made it quite clear how important a support system is for any writer. My best scaffolding comes from SCBWI – I know I can contact wonderful people who will talk me down off the parapet, sort out my formatting issues or just plain be there. The conference in Winchester is a highlight of my year.
What other sort of writer could I possibly want to be?
Then come the next questions: YA or middle grade? Fantasy or thriller? Ghost stories or sea stories?
 to be continued….