Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Back to Reality

This week is Banned Books Week, a national celebration of the freedom to read anything you want. Banned Books Week was initiated in 1982 to highlight the problem of censorship in books all over the world. This includes both children and adult books.

I myself have been subject to censorship. You can read my previous rant about St George here. I still have not managed to get over this yet, as you can see as I repeated myself a year later here and here. I was also suspended in 2002, for reading the last thirteen lines of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in a Church school, which in my opinion was ridiculous, as it is all about friendship and has nothing to do with witchcraft what-so-ever. I was seven months pregnant at the time and had all ready handed my notice into the school as I was not planning on going back to work after I had my baby. Truth be told, the head and I had several run-ins that Term. But, I realised she was just plain crazy when one day, she suggested the rules for punctuating speech may have been changed overnight.

Anne Rooney has written an insightfully, funny article for the New Humanist website about her and fellow writer’s experiences of censorship. This article was made even more interesting for me, as I was privy to a lot of the initial discussion about it on the NibWeb forum. In her article, ‘Banned: the hidden censorship of children's books’ published’ she highlights how many children’s books are censored, to mainly appease the American market, even before they come to press. This is especially true of children’s non-fiction, which seems strange when you think these books are based on the real world.

Why hide reality from children? Why would American kids find hedgehogs confusing when UK kids do not find porcupines confusing? By excluding hedgehogs from books are we protecting the American children, or giving them a distorted view of the World?

The Banned Book Week website suggests schools could organise a discussion forum on book banning using examples like Harry Potter, or Twilight to develop children’s analytical skills by asking such questions as:

• Why do you think this book was banned?

• Why do people ban books?

• Why do you like this book?

If you have had experience of censorship, or know of books that have been banned for inexplicit reasons, please leave a comment and let me know.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Giants, Basketball and Earthquakes

If I said these three words to you, what would you think of? Well, I know what I would think of and who…

It would most definitely be the amazing Candy Gourlay and her debut novel Tall Story. I was lucky enough to attend not only her book launch at Waterstones in Islington Green but, also more recently the party held in her honour at the Philippine Embassy in London.

Candy has been described as, ‘The author with a whole nation behind her.’ At the party you really got a feel for what a National treasure she really is. The Ambassador gave her one of the best, supportive introductions I have ever heard. I was also able to buy a copy of the Philippine edition of Tall Story, as did her British publisher David Fickling.

If you would like to find out a bit more about Candy and her novel, you can watch this YouTube video of an interview with her for the Morning Show in the Philippines.

You can also read all about Candy's research for her novel in my column ‘Research Secrets’ on pages 16-17 of the November issue of Writers’ Forum.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Cover Girl

I was recently asked to forward to my editor at Hopscotch some ideas for the book covers for the ICT series I am writing. I thought this was brilliant. I have never been asked to contribute to the design of the book cover before.

My first instinct was to suggest something really flash that will immediately attract the eye but, then I began thinking about expense. I doubt an educational publisher has money budgeted for amazing 3D-foil book covers. After all, it’s not like I’m a famous author or anything.

This got me thinking about a SCBWI Professional Series meeting I had been to last year, where they discussed author input into covers and editors explained how they have to balance what the author would like with what the booksellers want. I was surprised to learn at this meeting that many booksellers will make a judgement on whether to stock a book totally on the basis of the cover.

Well, as most of my books are sold direct to libraries and schools this may not be such a problem. But, I know as a consumer, I am more likely to pick up a book which I like the cover of, than a plain boring cover that just contains the title and author names. So, I had to think of something good.

Anyway, I am not sure how much I am allowed to tell you about what I said for the book design or even if they will take my input on board. So what is the point of blogging about it? Because, it is another milestone for me.

Oh yeah... and I get to post a selection of books with my name on, to show you the covers. How cool is that?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Abseil Challenge

No, it is not me who is going to do the 100ft abseil challenge down Battersea Power Station. Although, it does sound quite fun! It is my eighteen-year-old, cousin’s daughter, Imogen.

What makes this event even more spectacular though, is not just the fact Imogen is afraid of heights but, she will be doing it without her leg.

This is because Imogen has had her leg amputated. She was born with a talipes (club foot) and a deformity of the lower leg. Her parents were told when she was born that she may never walk. The fact that she had no ligaments in the knee meant her knee was only supported by soft tissue. As she grew older this soft tissue could not support the knee and she experienced major problems around the age of thirteen.

Doctors tried to help with various treatments, including carrying out knee replacement surgery, but this did not work. At the age of fifteen, she decided to have the amputation. Although, she does have a prosthetic leg, phantom pains in her stump means she can’t wear it for the abseil as she wont have finished the course of treatment injections.

She said, “Doing it without my leg will make it harder but if I take it slowly, it should be fine. Nothing will affect my abseil, I’m determined.”

The abseil will take place on Sunday, September 26, and Imogen is raising money for the charity, Mines Advisory Group (MAG), a humanitarian organisation that works in conflict zones to clear unexploded bombs and disused weaponry. MAG work hard to educate and build futures for people affected by war.

Imogen chose this charity in recognition of those who have lost their limbs from landmine explosions and also because of the work they did in Cyprus to help clear landmines in the aftermath of the Cypriot War in 1974. Her dad (my cousin), Ian, came to England as a child refugee during this time. I remember it well because he lived with me and my family for several years and became my big brother for a while.

To sponsor Imogen, visit www.justgiving.com/Imogen-Holland

Friday, September 10, 2010

Blue Elephant Storyshaping

Had a great time at the Agent's Party last night, meeting up with good friends and making some lovely new ones. :) You will be pleased to hear I managed to pitch my novels to a couple of the Agents too and they asked me to send in my chapters.

Whilst I was there, I heard all about Blue Elephant Storyshaping, the exciting new venture of Natascha Biebow, ex-Random House picture book editor and SCBWI-BI Regional Advisor. If you are a children's book writer of picture books, young or middle-grade fiction, and need some help shaping your stories pre-submission to agents or publishers, check out her website at www.blueelephantstoryshaping.com/

She says: "Publishing is changing. In the tough marketplace, publishing houses have limited in-house resources and are aiming to reduce their overheads by acquiring more finished, high-quality books that don’t require as much polishing. Agents are also increasingly pressed for time and their job is much easier when they are sent fully developed projects to place with their clients. Blue Elephant Storyshaping can help you hone your work so that publishers and agents sit up and take notice of your submissions.

I recognize that each book is unique and that authors and illustators are individuals. I have the time to help you develop your craft, understand the creative process, and can empower you to find your vision. Blue Elephant Storyshaping can tailor its services to help you shape the book that you have always wanted to write or illustrate. Together we’ll go on a storyshaping journey. We’ll explore, have fun, dig deep for the heart of your story. Sometimes it will be inspirational, sometimes it may be challenging, but together we will craft the best book inside of you."

Contact her at: hello at blueelephantstoryshaping.com

Thursday, September 09, 2010

SCBWI Agent's Party

I have been a SCBWI member since 2002. I know this for a fact because I looked up my membership the other day when I was appointed SCBWI Network Co-ordinator for the London area. This is a long, long time to have a dream of being a best-selling children’s novel writer. Yes, I have 24 books published and more on the way. And YES I have my own column. But, I have NOT achieved my dream.

So, I have decided today is the day I ought to do something about following this dream. After all, aren’t I the one who always says, “You can do, whatever you put your mind to.”

Haven’t I told you the story of when I passed my Bronze Medallion, four months after giving birth to my first child? Well, it is probably about time I followed my own advice and what better way to start than attending the SCBWI Agent’s Party this evening.

The Agent’s Party is an excellent opportunity to learn inside information about the current publishing scene. What’s hot and what’s not! It gives us the chance to meet agents face to face and pitch our novels.

Which means, it is time for me to stop faffing around, worrying about my hair and stuff, and get on with it. I have topped up my business cards and now I'm frantically trying to think of a one-line pitch. I have a couple of hours before I have to get on the train.

OK! YES! I have had days… weeks… months… over a year… since 2002… to try and think of a one-line pitch to hook an Agent.

“Why have I left it till the last minute?” I hear you ask.

I have no excuse. I have attended the SCBWI Professional Series for many years and the message that comes across loud and clear is that a writer should always be ready to give a one line pitch. As Liz de Jager said in her email just the other day,
"You never know if you will be able to fire up the interest of an agent or editor in your work and you might be invited to send examples of your work along later."
But, where do I start? Well, Nathan Bransford in his blog says:
“The important thing to remember is that a good pitch is a description of what actually happens. It's a one sentence description of the plot, not the theme.”
My understanding of this is the plot should include the main conflict that the characters are going to face. Hmmm! I best get my synopsis out and see what I wrote.

Another thing we are always being told, is to consider the USP (Unique Selling Point) of our novels. This information has made my mind go blank. I can’t think of one single USP for any of the children’s novels I have written. Not ONE!

Nathan also says, the one sentence pitch should have:

“A dash of flavor: anything you can do to flesh out your pitch with some key details that give a sense of the character of your novel (funny, scary, intense, tragic, etc.)”
All right, all I got to do now is summarise the plot of my book in one line, include the USP and make it funny, by 7pm tonight. How hard can it be?

Errr! What’s my book about again?

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Booktime Competition

Nominate your primary school or local library for a chance for them to own an amazing artist's proof from "Slowly, Slowly, Slowly,” Said the Sloth, signed by the author/illustrator Eric Carle.

This fantastic Booktime competition is to celebrate giving away 680,000 free copies of Eric Carle's wonderful picture book, "Slowly, Slowly, Slowly,” Said the Sloth, published by Puffin. It has been organised by the independent charity, Booktrust and sponsored by the Pearson Publishing Group.

Every year Booktime give over a million books away to reception children in schools all over the UK. I remember my own children receiving their Booktrust packs and being thrilled with the beautiful picture books they received.

Anyone can nominate a primary school and/or a public library in England. All you have to do is complete the nomination form on the Booktime website. Nominations opened yesterday, the 6th September and close on the 31st October. Every eligible nomination will be entered into a prize draw and the winners selected at random.

Also in this year’s book packs, is a special abridged edition of the illustrated non-fiction book, Why is the Sky Blue? compiled by Geraldine Taylor, illustrated by Amy Schimler and published by Ladybird. It is good to see non-fiction books being included.

Friday, September 03, 2010

My Column

As most of you should know by now, I have a monthly column in the hugely popular national writing magazine Writers' Forum. My column is called Research Secrets and I talk to some amazing writers about the research they have done for their books and ask them for any tips that may help other writers when researching.

In the October issue of Writers' Forum, available in all good bookstores now, you can read my interview with crime and thriller book writer, Simon Hall. Simon is the BBC's Crime Correspondent for the southwest England and author of the TV Detective novels.

His new book The Balance of Guilt is due out next week on the 9th September and is the fifth book in the series.

I was lucky enough to meet Simon at this year's Caerleon Writers' Holiday and must say as well as being an exceptional writer, he is also a very groovy dancer.

To find out more about Simon and his books and to read his blog, check out his website at: http://www.thetvdetective.com/. To find out his research secrets and tips you can read my double-page feature on pages 16-17 of Writers' Forum.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Virtual Book Launch

I've never had a book launch - not a proper one at an amazing venue, with lots of guests, champagne and chocolates, where people ask me to sign copies of my books. But, a writer can dream. So, I have decided to have my own virtual book launch with virtual chocolates and champagne.

Please join me today in the launch of four new books written by me and published by QED Publishing. They are a series of hardback illustrated maths books for children aged 2+.

The Shapes Around Me series is designed to help children recognise squares, circles, rectangles and triangles in their own environment. The books have beautiful, bright illustrations to attract young readers.

The paperbacks are due to be released in February 2011. QED Publishing have recently commissioned me to write a complimentary series called Colours Around Me. This series is due to be published early next year.