Tuesday, 20 February 2018

School Visits and Book Sales - A Vexed Question by Joan Lennon

When I looked up "vexed question" this is what I found:

Vexata Quaestio. A question or point of law often discussed or agitated, but not determined nor settled.

Which pretty much describes the fit between book sales and school visits down to the ground.  Opinions for and against can run strong.  More and more schools won't even consider it.  What are some of the advantages, disadvantages and methods of making book selling and signing part of an author event?

The pros:
* There's something pretty special about having a book signed just for you - it's a connection - it makes that author your author.
* And for the author, it's a brief but lovely chance to make a one-to-one contact, answer a question, share a smile or a joke.

The cons:
* Books are expensive, and many families are under enough money pressures already without adding one more.
* What about the kid who doesn't get a book - everybody remembers how it feels, being the one left out.  

The hows:
* A local bookshop comes in and deals with it all - providing stock, doing the selling.
* The school deals with a supplier (bookshop or direct with the publisher) and has a teacher or someone on hand for the nitty-gritty.  
* The author carries stock with them and handles the money.

Should book sales and signing be part of an author visit to a school?  What do you think is the best answer to this vexed and vexing question?  Or if there is no single answer, what do you think is the best compromise?  What pros and cons and hows have you experienced?

Let the conversation/discussion/agitation begin!

Joan Lennon's website.
Joan Lennon's blog.
Walking Mountain.

Monday, 19 February 2018

The new Book Buddy scheme - Lucy Coats

Authors almost always have too many books, and we're not the only ones. I know I do, because I like to keep up with what's going on in my industry (code for I am an inveterate and avid reader). Sometimes I'm lucky enough to be sent them by publishers, most times I buy them, and occasionally I'm given them by kind friends. In my house, they're in piles everywhere, double shelved on the groaning bookshelves, and generally taking over the whole place with their lovely colours and tempting contents. Quite regularly, once I've read them, I give some away to random kids, and to schools I visit. But there are still too many, and now I'm moving house, I need to downsize them considerably. That's why I was so thankful when the brilliant Maz Evans (author of the marvellous Who Let the Gods Out and Simply the Quest) set up the brand new BOOK BUDDY scheme. 

Book Buddy is very simple. It pairs people who have too many books (and who would like to donate them) with schools. It is a sad fact that school budgets are squeezed to the limit, many schools struggle to provide basic supplies to their students, and most often it's book provision which suffers. This is not a state of affairs any of us like, I don't think, and there will be some who argue that the government or local authority should step up and deal with it. They absolutely should, but meanwhile, while the politicians argue, kids are left without access to a school library or books which they can borrow.

I'm am no doubt preaching to the converted when I say that many studies have proven that the act of reading itself enhances intelligence and boosts brain power. But with school libraries either absent or ill-supplied and public libraries closing at a scary rate, many kids are left with little or no access to books in school or at home. We shouldn't need Book Buddy. But we do. So I've signed up to help, and it would be great if you could too. I personally would rather give my surplus books to kids who need them than have them hanging around like unread ghosts on my shelves.

If you're interested in finding out more, you can do so at book buddy.org.uk -- and if you have a local school, do encourage them to sign up too. The more the merrier!

OUT NOW: Cleo 2: Chosen and Cleo (UKYA historical fantasy about the teenage Cleopatra VII) '[a] sparkling thriller packed with historical intrigue, humour, loyalty and poison.' Amanda Craig, New Statesman
Also out:  Beasts of Olympus series "rippingly funny" Publishers Weekly US starred review 
Lucy's Website Twitter - Facebook - Instagram
Lucy is represented by Sophie Hicks at The Sophie Hicks Agency

Sunday, 18 February 2018

The Haunted Attic by Lu Hersey

Moving is traumatic. I know, because I moved this week. For me, the trauma wasn’t so much about the upheaval or change of neighbourhood –  it was dealing with the bodies in the attic.

Not my attic - way too interesting...

Somehow the loft had accumulated a number of dead relatives, and I had to clear everyone out. There weren’t any actual bodies of course (sorry to disappoint) - I’m talking about family history. Sentimental attachment. Guilt. More guilt. People’s entire lives in a few boxes.

I hate dark, spidery loft spaces, and have a fear of death by falling from a loft – so over the last 20 years, I’d been shoving things up there just to get them out of sight, thinking I’d deal with them later.

Bad idea. The day comes when you have to confront them all, and that time is when you move house. The loft had to be totally emptied, so I was forced to clear out the ghosts. All those things you get landed with when people die, the detritus left from other people’s lives.

Years ago, I had to translate a chunk of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle from the reign of Alfred the Great (an interesting man, who didn’t just burn cakes) as part of my English degree. It was about a visitor to Alfred’s court from somewhere in Scandinavia, telling them about the customs of his people.

King Alfred

When someone died in his community, all the dead person’s possessions were piled up in a big heap in the middle of the village. Then everyone raced to take what they wanted before the rest was burned. Alfred probably recorded this to make a point to his courtiers - that inheritance isn’t a foregone conclusion.

However, since King Alfred chose not to introduce this custom over here, we still end up dealing with our dead relatives’ possessions. If we’re lucky, these will include useful things, like treasure and property. Sadly, not in my attic. 

My grandmother was up there, confined to a box of photos of her family, a moth-eaten patchwork quilt, a horseshoe from her wedding cake, a few sad letters relating to the death of one of her children, and more on the death of my grandfather. My grandfather was divided between the photo box, and a collection of watercolours in varying degrees of awful.

An unknown dead relative from the attic, and his horse

 My mother took up a lot more attic space. After my father remarried, I got landed with all the photos ever taken of her, her books, all her dreadful paintings, and a collection of letters (which I’ve never read) between her and my father when he was away on National Service.  And all the letters she wrote to me when she knew she was dying. 

My mother with me, a long time ago...

So what we’re talking about is a lot of things you can hardly bear to look through, and leave you feeling like an emotional wreck when you do, but you feel obliged to keep. It’s all that is left of them. And that makes it very hard to get rid of.

Worse, my dead relatives were just the tip of the loftberg. There were all the paintings my children did at school. Four children can do a lot of paintings over the years. And they get a lot of school reports and bring home a mountain of school work. Two very large boxes and a trunk’s worth to be precise. Fortunately, my two youngest showed up to laugh at their old stuff and share the best of it with their friends online, and we managed to more than halve the quantity after some harsh quality control.

Lastly, there were the ghosts of my own past. Photos of people I’d forgotten existed, letters from old boyfriends, and piles of folders of ‘ideas’ (mostly pieces from magazines and old journals, all yellowing around the edges, and frankly the easiest thing in the loft to bin.) There were old computers I thought might still hold info I needed, old tvs that ‘might come in useful’, and tins of paint. Enough to paint entire mansions in a range of out-of-date colours.

My stuff was the easiest to deal with. I junked it all, entirely guilt free because it was mine to junk. My relatives were the real problem. In the end, I squeezed them into a few boxes, and the charity shop benefitted from the rest. Maybe other people will like the some of the terrible paintings. I thought about burning all my parents’ letters, but my youngest daughter persuaded me to keep them. So now they’re in a box marked ‘archive’ – and they’ll become her problem one day.  

But part of me is still tempted to dump all of it. Along with all the guilt and the sadness. As it is, I’ve spent much of the last year writing a book about people in a Mesolithic type environment who aren’t overloaded with stuff. In fact they own nothing.

It’s been very therapeutic...

Lu Hersey

Saturday, 17 February 2018

My Manic Schedule during WBD by Chitra Soundar

Every year schools across the world celebrate World Book Day, which this year falls on 1st March 2018.

Most schools (not all) decide to celebrate books and reading during this time of the year and on the day itself, children and often teachers dress up as book characters too.

For writers like me who go into schools to talk about writing and reading for pleasure, this is the busiest period of our annual schedule. I wrap up all my writing the week before the World Book Day and I cannot get back to my desk for almost a month.


It is amazing to visit schools, to meet with children and introduce my stories to them. It is heartening to see how schools practice reading for pleasure and incorporate books into their daily lives. Often the teacher or librarian (if the school still has one) who organises these events is doing this over and above their day job.

However many writers like me do wonder if there are alternatives to this adrenalin charged 2-3 week period of WBD tour most of us embark on. So if you’re a teacher or a librarian who organises events for schools, maybe some of these other ideas might appeal:

a)    A Day a Term – perhaps it would give a lot of focus and help with planning if there was one day in every term focussed on books and reading for pleasure where the school can come together. Or this could be a week.

b)    Alternate Days to WBD – As a writer from Asian background, I pulled together a list of dates where it would be lovely to bring in authors and books from different perspectives. Click here to download. 

c)     Virtual visits – some of us visit schools via Skype too. But it is tough to do virtual visits during the same week as WBD celebrations. Planning ahead will help you get both paid and free events with a multitude of authors into your schools. Check out Virtual Authors here.

d)    Patron of Reading – as Patrons of Reading, we visit our schools 3-4 times a year and use a whole day to connect with children about stories they love. Find out more here.

As a children’s writer, one of the biggest rewards of the job is to be able to go into schools and meet with children. It is a way to connect with our audience and also share the love of stories and reading. It is fabulous when we can inspire new writers and storytellers.

But it would be good that we can do this all through the year and not just during late February to early March. We do love to get away from our desks, washing-up and filing other times of the year too. So ring me right after Easter and we can get plan a school visit.

Are you a writer or a librarian or a teacher who has a different idea? Do you already do something amazing in your school that involves author visits but on different parts of the year? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Winter Inspiration by Claire Fayers

Since taking on an allotment, I’ve become far more aware of the passing seasons. Not just in gardening, but in writing. Winter is traditionally a fallow time, a time for the ground to rest, for roots to work their way invisibly until, just when you thought everything was dead, new shoots of inspiration appear. I’ve actually been fairly productive in writing recently. Copy-edits of book three, first draft of book four. But I’m always aware of the gaping void that lies beyond the current work in progress, that scary patch when I’m going to have to come up with new ideas. And, of course, with World Book Day looming, I’m getting ready for the perennial question “Where do you get your ideas from?”

I have a hundred different answers for that question. I keep changing my mind because there’s no one answer that feels right. Today, I thought I’d share a few moments of wintry inspiration.

I love snow. The way it covers everything, turning the ground into mashmallow and trees into Christmas ornaments. The way it squeaks underfoot like you’re walking on halloumi. And the rhythm of skiing. Those rare times when I swish along effortlessly feel almost like the moment when a first draft is going well.

My first book, Voyage to Magical North, saw my pirate crew sail to the top of the world in search of treasure and magic. I haven’t gone back to a cold climate since, but I’m thinking my next book should be icy.

This picture was hanging in our holiday apartment in snowy Trysil. It reminded me of the various folktales of women who marry wild animals and discover they are princes in disguise. It also brought to mind the gloriously weird German-made Singing Ringing Tree which I saw as a child and have never forgotten. 

I love the sense of mystery in this picture. We can’t see the princess’s face properly, but she seems peaceful. She’s holding something – a flower wreath, a ring of bread? It’s hard to tell, but it must be important.

This show had passed me by entirely while it was on the BBC, but various friends raved about it much I bought my husband the DVDs for Christmas so I could watch it. We took it away on holiday and binge-watched all nineteen episodes over six evenings. My friends were right as usual. It's beautifully scripted with subtle humour and a real kindness and respect for the characters. It would have been so easy to turn this into a parody, poking fun at people and their strange hobbies, instead we found that we genuinely cared about these characters. We wanted them to find their treasure (both actual and metaphorical.)

Come to think of it, buried treasure is quite an appealing subject in itself. I wonder if I can link it in to winter and a mysterious white bear…

Wishing you all many moments of inspiration.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Five Lessons To Combat Book Two Blues - by Rowena House

The new work-in-progress isn’t progressing very quickly – which is hardly newsworthy. What Book Two ever went well?

In fact, in common with most debut friends of mine, this isn’t Book Two at all: rejected pitches litter my computer files, abandoned story ideas clog up my Creative Folder, and an entire 88K manuscript sits somewhere on an old hard drive.

Being fore-warned of the time it will take, the labour and love required, the commitment, the research, the inevitable disappointments, and (if I’m really, really lucky again) another long wait between completion and publication, isn’t the same thing as being fore-armed.

Frankly, part of me thinks it’s madness to start again.

Yet another part of me keeps whispering that what I now know about editing might (just might) make the whole business of producing another publishable manuscript less overwhelming second time around.

So what lessons has hindsight taught me?

First, write with passion and instinct initially. Over-plotting is a killer. But at the same time bear in mind that sooner or later we do have to answer the big questions: what is the heart of this story? What one scene/idea/moment would I save if I had to erase the rest? And what does that say about the story I think I’m trying to write.

A lot of writing gurus say the answer to that last question about the core of a story – its underlying meaning – only emerges at the end of a first full draft. I don’t know about that. I think I had a sense of what I was writing much earlier than that with The Goose Road. But it certainly did require time and distance from the first draft to look back with sufficient perspective to discover that a lot of what I thought I’d written wasn’t actually there.

How much time & distance? For me, it took a full six months, working pretty intensively on another story, one I murdered by over-plotting.

But I also believe it was the very act of over-plotting – of analysing “story” objectively – which brought into clear relief the formal structures that were missing from The Goose Road. Okay, I had an Inciting Incident (several, in fact!) but also great dollops of irrelevant junk, and no proper character arc. I rewrote Acts 1 and II almost completely over the course of the following six months.

So I guess Lesson One for me has been: write with passion, then somehow find the headspace to be ruthlessly objective, and the patience and self-belief to rip Draft One into pieces.

Lesson Two: be honest. Editors want stories with a big heart and universal appeal, so if I’m simply riding some personal hobby get off it pronto. Then go find the universal in my protagonist’s journey.

Lesson Three: read good structural guide books. Structure is good. Structure is our friend. Don’t waste time re-inventing the wheel. My personal recommendations are James Scott Bell’s Plot & Structure, combined with his over-priced but truly enlightening Writing Your Novel from the Middle, Robert McKee’s Story, and John Yorke’s Into the Woods.

Lesson Four: don’t take to heart every writing maxim you see on Twitter, Facebook etc. Some are gems (I love all the variants of “First drafts are sh*t – but manure is great stuff from which to grow something better”) but I find others toxic, including exhortations to write every day, which is fine and dandy if you don’t have an actual, you know, real life, with bills to pay and people to care for, but if you do, they’re a source of misery and self-doubt.

Lesson Five (and this is the one I’m still coming to terms with): with average advances so low these days, for most of us writing will remain an art, a craft, a hobby even. Not a career. After eleven years of striving to get published, I’m very glad that my book did find a traditional home. But I don’t think writing is a particularly clever lifestyle choice; it’s more important to take care of yourself and those you love. A book with your name on the spine isn’t any kind of substitute for living life to the full.