Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Libraries Matter - Eve Ainsworth

I had a favourite place to go as a kid. I’m thinking a lot of you would be the same. This place was large and exciting. It was full of my favourite things and it was totally free. What would I have done without my library?

I’d spend hours, sitting cross legged on a tiny window seat reading through my latest collection. Then I fill up my rucksack with my new choices and walk home, bubbling with excitement. I used to love the feel of the books pines pressing against my back. I spend weeks enjoying my reads, before taking them back and starting all over again.

The library fed my addiction. And thank goodness it did. I wasn’t from a well-off family, we couldn’t afford to buy books on a whim – so libraries were vital for me. I can honestly say I wouldn’t have become the author I am now without access to one.

Working in schools, I spoke to young people where the situation was the same – they relied heavily on the library service. Not only to borrow books, but also to access services such as creative writing groups in the area. Where else would they go? I worked in a deprived area - for these students a fully functioning library was vital.

So it breaks my heart when I hear of these services being cut across the country. Ok so, I’m lucky where I am in West Sussex, we’re not too badly affected. But I’m constantly seeing on my Twitter and email timeline a different picture being painted across other authorities.

So by the time you read this, I will have ended my first rally – Speak up for Libraries in London – where authors such as Alan Gibbons, Philip Adargh, Cathy Cassidy and I will be speaking alongside other speakers to help fight back against these cuts.

I’m not the type who usually gets involved in demonstrations such as these. I’m usually the type of person that moans quietly in the privacy or my living room, or posts a grumbling comment on Facebook. But this is different. This ignites the spark of the younger me. A child who needed the access of the library service in order to develop and flourish – and there’s so many of these children still out there.

As I will be saying in my speech. Bevan once said of the National Health Service “it will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it”

The same goes for libraries.



Tuesday, 9 February 2016


This might sound a bit obsessive, but I keep a detailed time-log of all my working hours. It's a useful planning tool - I can work out which books are financially worthwhile and how long a proposed book will take. The time-log  is an Excel spreadsheet; it has columns for each project I'm working on and one with the title Admin/Truffle-hunting. Truffle-hunting?

Truffle-hunting pig, France (wikipedia images)
 Truffle-hunting is the uncovering of valuable nuggets - facts, ideas, inspiration. It can look like procrastination. It can be reading a string of apparently useless websites, anything from Brainpickings to Buzzfeed and some that are clearly clickbait but some instinct says there might be something there. And all the truffles, the shiny things dug out of the mud and data-slurry of the web, are then stored away, suitably tagged, in Evernote.

I only set out on a truffle-hunting mission when I'm stuck, but I sometimes get drawn into one. That's fine. As long as I note it on the time log so that it doesn't distort the metrics, the diversion is allowed. (Deadlines allowing - sometimes truffle-hunting has to be curtailed or suspended. Truffles are not always in season.)

Cut truffle (wikipedia images)
Just as the trufffle-hunting pig always has a nose even when not on a truffling mission, truffle-spotting isn't restricted to the hours on the time log. Reading the paper, talking to people, listening to Radio 4, all turn up the odd truffle unexpectedly. The knack is to recognise them and store them for later. They don't need to have an immediate use - it's just a matter of seeing their value. And truffles can look like a lump of mud, so spotting them is not always easy.

My Evernote is a sort of cabinet of curiosities, stuffed with intriguing things, most unconnected, many with no obvious application, but all with intrinsic interest. In the old days, they went in notebooks. Evernote makes them easier to find, so as a working tool it's better.

But whether you keep your truffles on the computer or on paper, it's worth valuing them. It doesn't matter if they get a bit old and dried out -  you can soak them when you need to use them and they will be lively and plump again. Ideas are like that.

Anne Rooney
Most recent book: Flashpoints in Science, Bounty (Hachette); Jan 2016

Monday, 8 February 2016

An Author's Life. By Keren David

It's been a busy month and a bit. Since 2016 started, I've done a little bit of everything that my life as an author involves.

  • I delivered the second draft of my latest book, Cuckoo to my editor (she liked it, hurray!), discussed the draft cover (I liked it, hurray!) and talked about publicity for when it is launched in August.
  • While my editor was working on Cuckoo, I went back to my historical novel, the one I've been working on for three years in between other books. I'm up to chapter 8 of what I hope will be the final redraft.
  • I also worked on the script for what I hope will be the final redraft of the musical version of my book Lia's Guide to Winning the Lottery. 
  • I'm a Visiting Lecturer at City University, working on the Creative Writing and Publishing MA. I've been setting up mentoring sessions with students and reading early versions of their major projects.
  • YA writer Sophia Bennett and I are teaching an evening class in Writing for Teens at City Lit. I've taught two sessions so far, on characterisation and voice.
  • As Patron of Reading at Highgate Wood School, I talked to our wonderful local bookshop, Pickled Pepper books last year and persuaded them to let the students design and make a window for the first ever Highgate Wood Book Award. Librarian Kate Ereira put it all into action, and I went to the school to look at the amazing designs, and then along to the shop to see the window created. Every time I go past I feel incredibly proud, of the school and the students and of being part of the Patron of reading scheme.
  • My book Salvage was up for two awards, which meant two ceremonies -  the Red Book Award in Falkirk and the Southern Schools Book Award in Brighton. It didn't win either, but I had a great time at both events -  and at the SSBA, Chris Riddell drew me, and Aidan from Salvage.
  • I spoke at Nottingham High School and signed lots of books.
  • Juno Dawson and I did an event for LGBT History month at a day for schools and families organised by Sue Sanders at the Museum of London. We talked about our books This is Not a Love Story and All of the Above, and writing diversity from inside and outside.
  • I filed my tax return.
When I was first published, in January 2010, I had no idea that my life would expand to include all of this. I had no idea that an author's life would be so varied, involve meeting so many  people, and travelling as well. 
 The battle, as always, is to make all this work pay. The bonus is that I enjoy all of it. Except the taxes.
I do wonder though -  is it unusual to have so many things going on, all at once? Do other writers stick to one project at a time? And could this be why I feel exhausted all the time? 

Creating the window at Pickled Pepper Books. 

Sunday, 7 February 2016

National Libraries Day - a round-up by Dawn Finch

The dust has barely settled on National Libraries Day 2016, but we can safely say that it was bigger than ever! It has been over five years since Alan Gibbons first proposed a day of national library celebration, and since then it has grown into the huge celebration that we look forward to each year. With over 400 events listed on the National Libraries Day website, and many hundreds more going on around the country, this year has been another huge success.

The day was covered in almost all national newspapers and in all media formats. There were some powerful articles about the importance of our libraries. I can't possibly list them all, so I will just link to a couple that I found particularly moving. In the Guardian there was a very emotional article written by an anonymous librarian who knows that, for many people, the librarian is the only person that they speak to - and the only human contact they have. The same paper also carried a wonderful collection of library love letters from top authors.

We heard interviews with top authors and library people on the radio, and on the tv. Social media burned hot with endless mentions and the two hashtags (#librariesday and #nationallibrariesday) were trending by 9am and kept going all day. Thousands of messages, blogs, photos and articles were shared as the nation celebrated its libraries and librarians.

Here is a very brief round-up of my favourite moments from the day. I could not possibly gather together all of the amazing things that thousands of people shared and so this is a teeny tiny collection of things that made me smile. Please do share your own favourite NLD moments in the comments below.

Our ambassador for NLD16 was Ann Cleeves and she told us what she thinks about libraries.

Elmer's dad, David Mckee, gave us this marvellous quote. I find this very touching, and it says so much about the greater importance of our library service.

I love a shelfie, and there were a good number to choose from. Here's Nicola Morgan with hers.

Word was spreading far and wide and librarians overseas made their contribution.

Sarah McIntyre made a glorious contribution with this poster. I can see librarians using this for a long time to come.

It wasn't just people showing us how important libraries are, even animals got in on the act.

I think that the translate functions were a bit overwhelmed. Librarians are way too smart for the machines understand.
The Scottish Booktrust shared a stunning poem from Jackie Kay. A truly beautiful poem about a place that has been by her side throughout her life.

And last (but never least) it wouldn't be Libraries Day without a chocolatey or hat-based contribution from Philip Ardagh. Here he is showing his library love in the most stylish way.

The full details for NLD16 have not been collated yet, but keep an eye on the NLD website for full write-ups and information about next year and other events. You can even join in the wonderful Elmer competition.

Thank you so much to everyone who supported National Libraries Day, and especially big thanks to everyone who works hard to keep our libraries going. You are all amazing and you should hear that every day of the year.

If you are inspired by all this, and filled with library love, join us on Tuesday February 9th and lobby Parliament to challenge their handling of public libraries in the UK.
You can find out all of the details here, and sign up to attend.
You could also support the CILIP campaign petition here - #mylibrarybyright
Use it, love it, save it – speak up for libraries!

Article by Dawn Finch

Saturday, 6 February 2016

My literary hero - by Cecilia Busby

Every week in the Saturday Review, the Guardian runs a feature called 'My Hero', where they invite a literary figure to write about someone who inspired them or whom they particularly admire. Recently, Lady Antonia Fraser chose George Wiedenfeld, who gave her her first job after chatting to her mother at a posh dinner party - such were (are?) the routes to employment of the well-connected...

I have occasionally wondered what figure I would choose, in the way you sometimes mull over what music you'd choose for Desert Island Discs (or is that just me?). Anyway, thinking about it recently, I decided that one very strong contender for my hero would have to be Christopher Marlowe.

I have loved Marlowe since I was about fourteen and discovered my dad's battered copy of Marlowe's Complete Works, which included as an Appendix the Baines Note, the document that, lodged with the authorities a few weeks before Marlowe's death, roundly condemns him for various heresies and treasons and may have been the reason he was killed at Deptford in 1593. Historians have cast some doubt on the veracity of Baines' testimony, but as far as I was concerned at fourteen, this was from the mouth of the man himself, and I found the Marlowe portrayed in Baine's report of his wild and no doubt drunken ravings irresistibly cool. Like a good Marxist 300 years before his time, he claimed 'that the first beginnings of religion was only to keep men in awe', as well as various other blasphemies, and amusingly claimed 'that if he were put to write a new religion, he would undertake both a more excellent and admirable method and that all the new testament is filthily written'.

As well as the denigration of religion, he denied the power of the crown, arguing that 'he had as good a right to coin as the Queen of England, and that he was acquainted with one Poole, a prisoner in Newgate, who hath great skill in mixture of metals, and having learned some things of him he meant through the help of a cunning stamp-maker to coin French crowns, pistolets and English shillings.'

This made me laugh. It was so obviously the kind of thing you say when rather inebriated, making grand and ridiculous plans with your mates to make your fortune without (crucial, this) having to actually do any real work. Add the atheism, the hints of homosexuality, the low-life brawls that saw him arrested and chucked in Newgate, and his shady role as a spy for Francis Walsingham, and you have the perfect reprobate, guaranteed to appeal to a teenager. And just look at that bad-ass, truculent stare in the portrait he had painted when he graduated from Cambridge at the age of 21. When I heard that he was the son of a Canterbury shoemaker, and that he'd got to Cambridge on a scholarship on the condition he joined the church, but had proceeded to become a spy and a drunken playwright instead, my admiration was complete. And then there was the tragedy of his death. So young! Such a waste! Stabbed to death in Deptford, supposedly in an argument over the bill, and buried before he was thirty.

But it wasn't just his character I fell in love with, and he'd be a pretty poor literary hero if it was. My love for Marlowe was first and foremost for his words, and I was reminded of this when I randomly picked up my daughter's 'Oxford Book of English Verse' and came across excerpts from his Hero and Leander. I was instantly transported to my teenage years, rolling the wonderful sounds of Marlowe's verse around my mind. There is such resonance in his verse, such fantastic rhythms. There is nobody like him. Listen to this, from Tamberlaine, the first of his plays I read, and one that absolutely floored me:

If all the pens that ever poets held,
Had fed the feelings of their master's thoughts,
And every sweetnes that suspir'd their hearts,
Their minds, and muses on admired themes:
If all the heavenly Quintessence they still
From their immortall flowers of Poesy,
Wherein, as in a mirror we perceive
The highest reaches of a human wit,
If these had made one Poems' period
And all combin'd in Beauty's worthiness,
Yet should there hover in their restless heads,
One thought, one grace, one wonder, at the least,
Which into words no virtue can digest.

There are so many other quotes I could fill this with - but you can find them for yourself (and probably have your own favourites). I will just finish, though, with a recommendation. Ros Barber recently wrote a marvellous book based on the idea that Marlowe didn't die in Deptford, and that he went on to write the plays and poems assumed to be by Shakespeare. You don't have to agree with her to enjoy the detective story she lays out, and even more to appreciate the wonderful sonnets she writes in the voice of Marlowe post-death. It's called The Marlowe Papers, and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize as well as winning the Desmond Elliot prize.

So there you are - my literary hero. Who's yours?

Cecilia Busby writes humorous fantasy adventures for ages 7-12 as C.J. Busby. Her latest book, The Amber Crown, was published in March by Templar.


"Great fun - made me chortle!" (Diana Wynne Jones on Frogspell)

"A rift-hoping romp with great wit, charm and pace" (Frances Hardinge on Deep Amber)

Friday, 5 February 2016

National Storytelling Week and Speaking up for Libraries Savita Kalhan

This week, from 30th January until 6th February, is National Storytelling week. It was founded by the Society of Storytelling and has been running for the sixteen years now. Its aim is to promote the centuries old tradition of storytelling in communities across the UK.

Storytelling is an art that began before people could write. It's where myths and legends, folklore and fairy tales find their roots in every civilisation across the world. Then came the written word, books and translations of stories from other parts of the world, some of which became incorporated into the cultures and history of other lands and made their own.

As writers we make up stories. We think them up, write them, rewrite them, polish them, and then have them read, and eventually they may even get published. It's a long hard road. The oral storytelling tradition is very different. A story I make up on the spot to tell my child or nephews and nieces is spontaneous. Stories will inevitably adapt and change to fit the audience, and the ability of storytellers to do that with ease and assurance is an art.

Moving on from the spoken word to the written word and books, which I believe everyone should have access to, where best to have free and easy access to the written word but in your local library? Tomorrow, the 6th of February, is National Libraries Day. Like many writers have also said, I too would not be a writer if there had not been a local library in my town. The library offered books that I could borrow for free, there was advice and guidance on books from qualified librarians, there was somewhere to sit and do my homework, and it offered me a safe haven too.

Anne Cleeves, writer of TV series Vera and Shetland, has been named National Libraries Day ambassador. She says of libraries that, “They’re magic places. And we need them for democracy – there should be equal access to books, information and facts for everybody.”

Children’s authors have spoken up. Cathy Cassidy has said, "Without libraries, I would never have had access to books as a child, would never had stood a chance of following my dreams. Now our public libraries are being closed all around us; it’s a national scandal, and we must stand together against these closures, for the sake of our children and the future of our country."

 Philip Ardagh has called on book lovers to, "speak up for libraries before there’s nothing left to shout about."

John Dougherty says, "If we want a society that is literate, cultured, educated and compassionate, then a well-funded, professionally-staffed public library service is not a luxury. It is a necessity. And the destruction of service that our government is allowing is quite simply immoral."

Almost four hundred and fifty libraries have closed since 2010. Lots more are facing closure. Under various new proposals, some libraries, the ones that have not already been shut down or are facing the axe, will only be able to offer very limited services, limited opening hours, and some 'will not allow any under 16 years old in unless they are accompanied by an adult'!

I know for a fact lots of libraries are full of kids after school, including my local library, Finchley Church End. Kids are doing their homework, studying, or reading books. Some of them come to my teen reading group on a Monday. The only parents that are accompanying children are the parents of young children, not teenagers. This is set to change in many libraries.

Follow this link to read about what Biblioteca, the company who have thought up 'Open+', a plan devised to apparently keep more libraries open. Libraries will much more high tech with gates and security cameras, entry by card and pin, no staff (or minimal staff and volunteers...) and teenagers will have no access to a library unless they are accompanied by an adult, and that is just SO WRONG! Did I shout that loud enough? Read more about the Open+ plan HERE.

There has to be a better way.

We all appreciate the value of libraries, how important they are, why they're important, and what they've meant to us. I've blogged about what they've meant to me many times, and I will continue to add my voice to those campaigning for libraries. So if you haven't already signed the petition, please sign it by following the link here -

There is a Speak up for Libraries lobby on Parliament on 9th February if you're in London. Follow this link for more details -

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Thursday, 4 February 2016

What is a 'concept document'? – And how to write one – by David Thorpe

I just wrote a fight scene in a novel I'm engaged on for older children. Three against three. I had to choreograph it, visualising the space, what was in it, and where everyone was at any given time. Interleave moments of action that would, if watched, be simultaneous. Lay in lines of witty dialogue. Pace it.

The fight lasts maybe three pages. It took a morning to draft.

Over the last several weeks I've been writing something that, by contrast, is just one page long. But it's one of the toughest pieces of writing I've ever attempted. It is not from a novel but based on one of my novels. It is what's called a 'concept doc'.

Its purpose? To attract the attention of a production company or executives that dramatise books for television.

One page. The pithier the better.

Structurally, a concept document is broken down into four sections, following the title and the number of episodes/length:

First: the hook. This is really challenging to get right. It must encapsulate the essence of the idea while enticing the reader on.

Here is a brilliant example of a hook, for The Collection, a new original VoD tv drama series set in a Parisian fashion house after WWII, made by some of the people who brought you the BBC's War and Peace. It's from the keyboard of its writer, Oliver Goldstick:

"It's not so much about what they're wearing as what they're covering up".

Terrific, huh?

This is followed by a short summary of the core concept. What manner of beast is this thing? Not just the genre and audience but the central characters and setting, and narrative thrust, so we know what to expect if watching it.

If it's based on a published book, say something about how it was received.

Third is a plot summary. Mine has three paragraphs. To sum up seven hours of drama. That really focuses your mind.

It's not just about leaving out all those lovely subplots and deciding what is peripheral but conveying the story elements, the broad sweep, the flavour of the key characters' motivations, and the emotional mood swings, so that it is convincing and without non-sequiturs.

Finally, a note on style and format. This is where you say what it's like (e.g. 'Sherlock Holmes meets Star Wars' – say, that's not a bad idea), and why audiences around the world will stop everything they're doing to watch it when it's on. What are its vital selling points that distinguish it from anything else on the screens, while being not so different that it's too risky to undertake?

Every word in the concept doc must fight for its right to be where it is, keeping also in mind it is likely to be scanned by someone with the attention span of a lepidoptera. So you also have to minimise cognitive dissonance in your attempt to summarise the plot while intimating its depth and distinctive qualities.

But the trickiest part of writing it is being able to step back and see it afresh, again and again – a vital discipline to pick up for a writer.

Even if you've no intention of selling your book as a tv series (or film), doing this with one of your own books could be a useful exercise, because it really helps you to fine-tune its uniqueness, the central dramatic attraction, and what should make your book compulsive reading.

  • If you undertake this exercise while or even prior to writing the book, you may find it helpful for focusing on what the story is really about.
  • If you have completed your book, then it is could be useful for constructing your cover letter to an editor or agent. 

I was fortunate in writing my concept doc in being able to bounce it back and forth with my son, Dion, who's in the business and loves the book, and who is ambitious to see it on the screen. His feedback was invaluable, as was that (as always) of my wife, Helen.

I think we went through about 35 drafts. So far. I think it's taken half as long as it took to write the novel. I think we're nearly there. But then every time I say that we think of an improvement.

You see, you only get one chance at pitching to an agent or producer, and everything hinges on it. There are a zillion ideas out there, and a million people pitching them. That's why it's so crucial to get it – pitch perfect (sorry, couldn't resist).

If you'd like to take a look at it, get in touch.

Now, back to my fight scene.

David Thorpe is the writer of the Sci-Fi YA novel Hybrids and the cli-fi YA novel Stormteller.