Thursday, 26 May 2016

The Boy who Drew the Future by Rhian Ivory - Eloise Williams

For my blog piece this month I've decided to do a fabulous interview with the fabulous Rhian Ivory. Absolutely...


 

What is The Boy who Drew the Future about?

Noah and Blaze live in the same village over 100 years apart. They are linked by a river and a strange gift: they both compulsively draw images they don’t understand, that later come true. They can draw the future.
1860s – Blaze is alone after his mother’s death, dependent on the kindness of the villagers, who all distrust his gift as witchcraft but still want him to predict the future for them. When they don’t like what he draws, life gets very dangerous for him.
Present day – Noah comes to the village for a new start. His parents are desperate for him to be ‘normal’ after all the trouble they've had in the past. He makes a friend, Beth, but as with Blaze the strangeness of his drawings start to turn people against him and things get very threatening. Will he be driven away from this new home – and from Beth?

Will both boys be destroyed by their strange gift, or can a new future be drawn?

 

The book interweaves chapters from the present day (Noah) and the past (Blaze). What sort of research did you find yourself doing?

 

I did a lot of historical research for Blaze’s chapters, reading court reports about the real Sible Hedingham Witchcraft Case which is fascinating.

For Noah’s chapters I read as much as I could find about art and Gustav Klimt in particular. I wanted to immerse Noah’s character in a very visual world.

 

Your previous novels (published by Bloomsbury under the name Rhian Tracey) are contemporary YAs - what made you decide to write a book with such a strong historical element?

 

I’ve always wanted to write historical fiction, it is my favourite genre and I’ve read a lot of it but have been a bit nervous about approaching it. However I really liked the idea of contrasting Noah’s experiences in the present day with Blaze’s in the 1860s.

 

 

What is your next book about?
My 6th novel is actually a novella and is contemporary fairy tale retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Matchgirl. My version is called Matchgirl.

Thanks to an Arts Council Grant I have had a year off in which to write my 7th novel Always, Hope which is about stalking, social media and singing.

I’m starting my 8th novel this month which is exciting and scary at the same time, entering a different world filled with new characters.

 

You are a Patron of Reading and Creative Writing specialist, what does this entail?

I visit primary and secondary schools promoting reading and sharing my writing skills. I love school visits, they are so much fun!

 

Have you got any public events coming up?
Yes! I’ll be at Waterstones Oxford in August, Waterstones Milton Keynes in September, Waterstones Cirencester in Sept/October and Waterstones Cheltenham in November with Emma Carroll, Katherine Woodfine, Lauren James and Helen Maslin. We’ll be talking about historical fiction. Here’s a write up of our event most recent event at Waterstones Birmingham by the wonderful Chelley Toy -
http://talesofyesterday.co.uk/2016/04/tales-events-brumhist-waterstones-birmingham-april-2016/

 

I’m at YALC in July which I’m really looking forward to.
I’ll also be at YAShot literary convention at Waterstones Uxbridge in October running a workshop on how to write historical fiction.
 

 

You can follow Rhian on twitter @Rhian_Ivory and find out more about her by visiting Firefly’s website - http://www.fireflypress.co.uk/node/162

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

'Children's Books are Quite Boring' by Tamsyn Murray

So it seems Simon Cowell wants write a children's book. He's read some with his son and thinks they're quite boring. It will be about animals, he says.

Children's authors were naturally raging a little put out. Lord Philip of Ardagh wrote an open letter urging Mr Cowell to consult a librarian to find some exciting children's books. Michael Rosen welcomed Simon to the party, pointing out that there were some great children's books already but that celebrity interest in reading was never a bad thing. Generally speaking, the conversation about children's books (already fairly buoyant) took a spike following the publication of Cowell's comments.

Anyway, taking a leaf from his book (geddit?) I've decided to write a pop song. I've thought about it and now I think I'll do it. It will be about rabbits dinosaurs Lola Mr Blobby love. Having ears, I've had to listen to a lot of these pop songs and they're quite boring, I think I could do better.

So here's how I think I'll do it. First, I think I'll find some monkeys with typewriters songwriters to work with. The song will be based on an idea I've had, so obviously I'll do all the hard work, but they can contribute all some of the notes and the lyrics;  these should rhyme 'you' with 'true' and possibly 'ooh' ad infinitum. No poo, though - that's better in children's books. Then I'll get some musicians in to play the music - I could probably do that better myself but I'm very busy. Lastly, I'll hold auditions for victims singers to sing the song once I've written it - actually, there could be some TV mileage in that: we'll call it Tamsyn's Got Music. Get my minions ITV on the phone, quick.

And of course, this song will be a smash hit - why wouldn't it be? After all, writing a successful pop song is easy, just like writing a book that children will love. It doesn't take imagination, skill and years of practice. You don't need to constantly think about your audience and their levels of understanding, finding the right vocabulary or creating a generation of readers or whether that toilet scene is a poo too far. It's as easy as falling off a log.*

I'm off to get started right now. All lyrics gratefully received!

*Not a poo joke. Or is it?**

**I don't think children's books are all about toilet humour but, rather inexplicably, kids love it. Parents have advised me to write poo jokes into my books before now.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

How to score top marks at school - Liz Kessler

A local school gave me a serious problem this week.

First of all they invited me to come to their school. They then proceeded to be one of the most wonderfully helpful, friendly and accommodating schools I have ever had dealings with.

Doesn’t sound too much like a problem? Well, no. Unless you are the next school who invites me to visit. This school has set the bar so high that they will be a VERY hard act to follow.

Now, I’m a great believer that every problem has a potential gift in it, if we are open to seeing it. And here’s the gift. As well as the lovely day, the school has given me the chance to write this blog, which means that from now on, if anyone invites me to visit their school, I can simply point them here and say, ‘Can you do it like this?’ and if the answer is ‘Absolutely,’ then we’re on. So, thank you Truro School for making those conversations much easier.

So here are my top ten tips for a great school visit...

1. The first email from the school’s librarian was friendly, clear in what they were asking of me and polite. Oh, and it included this line:

‘Your books are extremely popular, particularly with their local connections, and we very much hope that you will consider visiting us!’

Lesson one: flattery will not hurt your case.

2. When I stated my fees, the librarian was absolutely fine with this. No quibble; no, ‘We can’t afford to pay you, but it will be great exposure for you’. Just a, ‘Great. Please can we have a full day’s visit?’ Heaven.

Lesson two: please remember that in order for an author to visit your school, they will be giving up at least a day that they would otherwise have spent working at home and earning money, so please do not ask us to visit you for free. Before you do, ask yourself if anyone else – the teachers, the librarians, the head of English, the cleaner who will prepare the rooms for the visit, the admin staff who will send letters home – will be in school that day without being paid.

NB: If you still have any questions about the whole ‘being paid’ thing, take a look at this wonderful blog by Nicola Morgan. Hopefully this will ease any remaining doubts.

3. Approximately four emails into the exchange, the librarian brought up the issue of selling books. We discussed which ones would work best for the age groups I would be talking to, she agreed to send a letter home to parents letting them know books would be available and organised the ordering and selling of all the books.

Lesson three: Our livelihood depends on selling books. Most of us love visiting schools and talking to children – but we do need to sell books or our publishers stop publishing us, and if this happens, we stop being authors and you don’t get to invite us to your lovely school. So, yeah – well organised book sales will make us happy every time.



4. The exchange of emails was extremely friendly and lovely and easy from start to finish.

Lesson four: authors spend all day in front of their computers. We LOVE receiving friendly, lovely emails from people.

5. The librarian asked me how long I would like my sessions to last, how many children I’d like in each group, which ages I'd like to talk to, and we discussed between us whether workshops or talks would work best.

Lesson five: find out your visiting author’s strengths. Ask what works well for them. Negotiate. Do NOT ask them to do eight sessions in one day. Ever.

6. A couple of weeks before the visit, I was sent a proposed timetable for the day. It was just as we had discussed, showed the number of students in each group and included important things like ‘tea break’ and ‘lunch.’

Lesson six: Going to a school you’ve never been to can make even the most experienced amongst us nervous. The day will be full of people, places, routines and rules that YOU are probably very familiar with but we are encountering for the first time. A very clear schedule for the day that tells us where to be, when, who with and what will happen in between takes a lot of question marks out of the day for us.

7. Let’s just go back to the bit about lunch. Two librarians took me to the canteen with them. I was shown where everything was, and we sat together and enjoyed a lovely lunch. The only hardship was the bit where (because I’m on a diet) I made myself walk past the delicious-smelling fish and chips and choose a jacket potato and salad instead. Which was actually very lovely, as was the company.

Lesson seven: It doesn’t have to be grand or gourmet, but please do feed us. And even better, eat with us and chat to us and don’t make us have to sit on our own in a scary staffroom wondering where to go to get some food.

8. A week or so before the visit, the librarian emailed to ask me how I’d like to be paid. I was given an email address for the finance department to send my invoice to and was assured that payment would be made direct into my bank.

Lesson eight: Pay us. Please. On time, nicely, easily. No one likes to chase money, and most of us don’t like to spend all that long talking about it. 

9. The day itself! This was absolutely wonderful from start to finish. I was met in the foyer by the librarian who by now felt almost like an old friend. I was taken to the library where my books were on display, with showcards and posters everywhere. 



I was offered tea regularly throughout the day. I was greeted by the school’s headteacher who came in to see me and thank me for coming. I had plenty of teachers on hand for the crowd control during the talks. I had friendly, enthusiastic kids, teachers, librarians who listened, asked questions, joined in and generally made the whole day feel wonderfully smooth. I have to mention the lunch time session with a small group of very keen readers. This session was so warm and lovely and gave me an opportunity to share my writing process and some of the more personal aspects of the job with young people who I think really appreciated the opportunity to have this smaller session with me.

Lesson nine: I think by now, if you do all the things above, the day with you will probably go a bit like this too. I know that schools are all different and it won’t always be smooth and easy all the way – and nor should it be. But as librarians and teachers, what you can do is put in the legwork to make the day as organised as it can possibly be. The rest is up to us. If you’ve done your side of the deal, it makes it easier for us to do ours – which hopefully means that everyone involved will get the most out of the day.

Oh, and if you want bonus points, saving a space in the car park for your visiting author would be an extremely lovely touch.



10. After the event, the school wrote a little article about it which they sent to me. They emailed to say what a lovely day it was and shared photos on twitter and Facebook. This rounded the whole thing off perfectly.

Lesson ten: remember, in a few years, you’ll have a whole new set of students. If we had a wonderful time, we will almost definitely want to come back next time!

Thank you Truro School for setting the bar so high and for making my job a pleasure!


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Monday, 23 May 2016

Divine Madness by Steve Gladwin



'My name is Bess and I'm a mad girl.'

Some time last spring I wrote those words and from them sprang a brand new story – the current WIP which may or may not make my fortune, get me an agent, snare a brace of publishers or just keep me in cheese and CD's for the next few years.

The mad girl was a character who had rather unceremoniously muscled her way in from another unpublished book and who knows – perhaps the right story has been waiting for her and the other one will never see the light of day. But one thing's for certain - that is that my Bess firmly insists on not being ignored and seeing the light of day in her own right and who am I to argue?

Bess is the alter ego of Elizabeth Curzon, a young girl in 1850's London, who, finding herself in near poverty due to her feckless father, discovers a new life on the streets as apprentice to Old Lizzie, a professional Bess o' Bedlam. Hopefully you will eventually be able to read what follows but for now Bess is merely the springboard to this blog.




Of late I have been rather taken by the notion of madness. No, don't worry, the divinity of madness hasn't actually come upon me – well no more than usual – but I seem increasingly drawn to the idea of what madness actually is. A few years ago I taught confidence classes in a drop in centre for people with mental health issues. One of the oddest things about this was that there was little obvious sign of any disturbance to the user's equilibrium, due to medication keeping things largely on an even keel. Rather like that wonderful scene on the boat in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, most of the time you really could believe that the 'clients' could be the doctors.

Of course any health matter is all about interpretation and quite often the mood of the person at the time. For the most part the people I taught - even those who I just saw on a day to day basis - were happy and secure as long as they were familiar with both people and environment, which was surely the point. As part of a similar project called 'Chasing The Sun' I also taught several sessions at a halfway house facility. Again - although there was clearly an undercurrent of life away from my teaching sessions - the whole experience felt a great deal less 'mad' than say the three months I taught in HM Prison Shepton Mallett in 1994, where on the first day we were locked in a woodwork room stocked with abundant 'weaponry' - albeit in glass cases - with a group of eight inmates who had arrived to find that woodwork had been cancelled and they had to do drama!

It was when I had finished my confidence work in 2010-12 however that I came to feel increasingly depressed and for most of that time also, worthless. I have never entirely picked out the bones of why that was and this is not the platform on which to do it. One thing it did do was to make me think. A lot.

What does a mad person look like? Most of us who suffer one of several levels of depression look just like you or me because they are you and especially me. We don't wear a badge or carry a government health warning on our lapel. What we do – to coin a wartime phrase – is just to keep on carrying on.

Perhaps part of my own way of dealing with something as common as depression has been to write a novel where someone is pretending to be mad and where – in the end – she almost loses sight of who is Bess and who is Elizabeth. I recently re-read one of my favourite books, Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, and if you haven't I urge you etc. The book is, among other things, about identity and deception whereas my book is more about hiding a true self behind a deliberate deceit. But unlike Fingersmith - where the deceit comes via others and the plans they weave around the heroine - Elizabeth's deceit comes solely from herself. In the end her alter ego construct is so great that she begins to use her as a convenience when she wishes to ignore or escape from 'soft Elizabeth.'




Robert Schumann wasn't soft and, despite his early death at 46 in Endenich   asylum, he didn't suffer from a split personality. But in his recent, otherwise excellently argued biography, John Worthen tries so hard to convince the reader that RS never suffered from depression that he only convinces me that he surely did. Just because Schumann never uses the actual word 'depression' in his diaries and – crucially – because he continues to work during his many black times - surely - Worthen suggests - he can't really be that depressed if he manages to produce 130 of possibly the greatest songs ever written within 11 months. With the benefit of hindsight we know that the actual reason Schumann went mad and - in the end - had to be put away - was likely due to tertiary syphilis.. But that doesn't take away the question his continuing mental problems. I presume the author himself has never suffered from depression, or he would surely recognise that bouts of creative brilliance do not always equal happiness and that it may quite often be quite the opposite!


Tom Philips - Last Notes From Endenich 
What also emerges in the story of Schumann and so many other brilliant creative people, (Tchaikovsky, Van Gogh and Poe are just three picked for different reasons at random) is that idea of divine madness, where that journey into the near white hot brilliance of your next creation can too easily tip over into something else that you cannot deal with. I know there will be many of you out there who will recognise that this is true.

Which might again beg the question not only of how we define madness but how much of it might be 'divine'. By modern definitions of schizophrenia for example, a whole host of saints,mystics, hermits and holy men and women, (Buddha springs to mind), might have been put away for their own and the public's safety.Equally, sensitives, shaman and even the odd inspired bard like me might find themselves at the very least forced into treatment, without any understanding that all too often these are almost dictated vocations which are all but unavoidable

Surely then the best the rest of us can do is to sympathise with all those troubled voices when we hear them, whether they were smiling when they were creating their masterpiece or not. The character in my book has - for her own reasons - chosen madness as both a profession and a life style. Not everyone gets the choice.  

I'm aware that this is all a little serious so I'll leaven it with a true recent anecdote. Having finished the Schumann book, I was talking to my mother on the phone about it. I was telling her how in the asylum, the doctor's became obsessed with the firmness of Schumann's stool as being some kind of monitor of future sanity!  Wishing no doubt to consolidate my role as family wit, I suggested that this might actually be a good idea because if his stool hadn't been firm enough, he wouldn't have been able to sit to play the piano! The next night my unfortunate elderly father was rushed into hospital with a - shall we say - not unrelated condition.

I'd like to say that I'll keep my big mouth shut in the future but unfortunately I know myself all too well!    

  

John Worthen's Robert Schumann - Life and Death of a Musician is published by Yale University Press.

If you fancy checking out Schumann's astonishing bursts of creativity - whether he was depressed or not?  - you could do worse than begin with Hyperion's 11 Volume Complete Schumann songs with the pianist Graham Johnson. The gems - and a great deal of small jewels more besides - are there for all to hear. 


Sunday, 22 May 2016

In which I am exercised again about speaker fees - Nicola Morgan

I know, I know. I've I've talked about this before. But it needs to be said again because we all still get too many requests to do things for reduced/no pay. I'm re-posting (edited to speak for all of us rather than just for me) what I said on my own blog the other day, which had an enormous response on Twitter, FB and privately. I was contacted by three newly-published authors who said they really valued my speaking up about it as they've already experienced the deeply demoralising and undermining refusal to pay them for events. 

Although the post is about my own situation, it applies to very many of you, especially the fact that a fee has to account for far more than the time actually spent delivering a talk. I hope it empowers those of you who need support in standing up for our rights, our value and our needs. When you ask to be paid for your time and expertise, you are asking for something entirely proper. People who ask us to work for less need to know what it is they are asking.

Here goes.

This week, I've had NINE TEN eleven invitations to speak at schools or conferences, either to staff, parents or teenagers. Most invitations come with the understanding from the host that I do this for a living and that I'm not a charity. Most organisers are completely fine and respectful when I say what my fee is, even though it may be more than they wish it were! Sometimes, of course, they don't have the budget to manage the fee. I understand that.

But here's the thing: although it's a problem, it can't be mine or any speaker's. I need to explain this and I want to do it in a blogpost because otherwise I spend all day trying to work out how to explain politely in an email to each one.

First, though, some exceptions:
  1. The School Library Association. I will always do reduced-fee events for them! Other authors will probably have their own favourite organisations to make exceptions for.
  2. A local public library. If I'm asked in the right way... For example, Oakham library, a few miles from me, asked me to do an event for them about Reading Well. They asked what my fee would be. I offered to do it for nothing.
  3. Occasionally, as with 2, an organisation gets under my skin. But it hugely depends what it is and how easy the event will be for me to get to. It would need to be specifically related to my work, not a random charity.
  4. Festivals. They have set fees and should offer everyone the same, so, if I accept a festival event, I accept the fee offered. But I can only do very few of these, and the conditions would have to be right. I turned two down this year, not on the basis of fee but on the basis of what they were asking me to do.
I'm not cold-hearted. I'm not greedy. I give a lot of my time to help people in both their work and private lives. Most children's authors do.

So, here is my answer to event organisers asking for reduced/no/too low fees. I know it's a viewpoint shared by very many authors.

I appreciate your budgetary constraints. But I am not on a salary and you (usually) are. This means that for much of the working week, I am not being paid. At all. Including while we have the email conversation in which I explain why my fee is what it is. But I am paying for my working overheads while this is going on. For a freelance of any sort, it would simply not be possible to have paid work every day because then there would be no time for the substantial unpaid tasks which must be done. That is one of the main reasons why freelance rates are higher than employed rates - the money does not all end up in the freelancer's pocket. I've blogged about this and how I set fees before.

Let's look at it in one simple way. My working time is divided into three (unequal) parts. This is common for authors, particularly children's authors and illustrators.
  1. Writing days - for which I'm paid pitiably badly if I make the mistake of thinking how long a book takes to write and then working out an hourly rate based on my average income from a book. (Average annual writing income for writers: £11k. Often we are paid a very few pence for each sale.) Effectively, we're not usually paid to write a book but we are paid if copies sell - which may start two years after we were doing the writing. I often write things that don't end up being published, too, for which I obviously am not paid.
  2. Speaking days - for which I'm usually paid relatively well (but only because of points below.) My usual fees are fair recompense for the energy and expertise.
  3. Admin, business and preparation days - for which I'm not paid at all. Except see the next point.
The only way to make a writing/illustrating career work and allow a creator to survive financially is to minimise the downside of 3. In other words, when we set a fee, we must try to embed into it the actual amount of time this event will take from a working week. So, if I have a ballpark figure that a day is worth, say, £350*, and if your event is going to take me three days, I have to charge you around £1000, plus expenses. Many events will take that long, because I may be away for two days and need at least another day for prep and admin.

And that's not even beginning to think about office overheads, all the insurance, electricity, accountancy, stationery, computers etc etc.

(*Andrew Bibby's reckoner to compare freelance with employed rates shows £346 a day as equivalent to a salary of £32,000. Forgive me if this sounds like a boast but I think my expertise and where I am in my profession put me at a much higher salary than that...)

Let me list reasons why I don't reduce my fees:
  1. Pardon me for saying this but I'm extremely good at what I do. I've been doing it a long time; I've learnt and improved hugely over the years and I've got to the point where I'm 100% confident that you will get brilliant value. Much better value than years ago when I was charging less. Thousands of hours of work have gone into the knowledge that I can now offer. I also spend a lot of time keeping up with new knowledge about the brain and cognition, so that I can deliver top-grade information. I consistently get excellent feedback.
  2. I am lucky that I offer something no one else is offering - a wide range of topics of enormous interest to schools and other organisations, topics including the teenage brain and stress, adolescent mental health, cognitive science, the reading brain and digital distraction issues.
  3. Although I charge decent fees, I am not earning these fees every day or even every week. So, don't think that, if I charge you £1000 for delivering your INSET day, I'm earning £1000 a day! Remember: that day takes three days, usually.
  4. If I reduce my fee for you, I don't think it's fair on those organisations who find the fee by doing sensible things such as charging delegates to attend. (I'm talking about conferences/INSET here.)
  5. If you're being paid, other adults in the room are being paid and you're not taking a pay cut that day, I don't see why I should reduce my income. That demeans me and undervalues me.
  6. Supply and demand: I cannot do this work every day or even every week, partly because otherwise I'd never be able to write and partly because it would simply wreck me. (It is not like teaching, which I've also done. It's perhaps like being on stage, solo, for hours; or it may be something like having your first day in a new job, every day.) Therefore, I limit the number of events I do; therefore I charge more.
  7. I am not, at the end of all this, a high earner. As evidence: I'm not VAT-registered. So, when I say I can't afford to reduce my fees, I'm being honest.
  8. I don't need, as a few people seem to think, a higher profile... Earlier this year a large private school wanted me to do something for NO FEE, on the basis that it would "help you get your name out there". This was an insult and meant that the person had failed to read up about me and discover that. actually, I am an international speaker and have far more invitations than I can say yes to. Again, sorry if that sounds like a boast; I'm simply trying to show you how it is and why suggesting that the event will boost my profile is not the way to get me to reduce my fee! (Occasionally, it really would boost my profile, in which case I would know that myself without you telling me. For example, if you invite me to a huge conference in New York, I might well agree to reduce my fee.)
I'm really genuinely sorry if you'd love me to speak but you can't afford the fee. I'm particularly understanding if you're a school and you want me to speak to pupils, because I realise the budget for this will be less than if it's an INSET day or conference or if you can charge parents a small amount to come to an evening event. But if you are a school planning to organise a conference, for example, and you have a low budget because you've decided not to charge delegates, I would ask: why not? Why should the other schools all get away with sending their staff at no cost and yet the professional speakers, without whom there would be no event, need to be underpaid? Of course, some professional speakers will say yes, for many reasons. They may be salaried, for a start. Or not feel able to say no. Or need the profile... I am genuinely sorry that I can't.

You see, I really value my work, my energy and my time. And so should all professional authors. I also value the organisations who make such an effort to afford fair fees and who work really hard to make the event a success. I want to devote a ton of energy to those organisations which fight to find the fee and which make me feel valued. That way, it becomes a virtuous circle, as I feel empowered and trusted to deliver a great event. And that's what you're more likely to get.

So, if you ask us to reduce our fee, please be really sensitive about how you make that request. Don't forget that we need to earn something vaguely like a living wage. Consider that I've spent my career building up the knowledge I have and practising my speaking technique. And that many others can say the same. Realise that no one works harder than I do to make sure that you get exactly what you ask for and that my attention to the brief you give me is absolutely second to none. 

We're worth it. And if we're not, don't ask us. You don't want a bargain: you want a great event.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

HAVING A LOVELY TIME by Anne Booth

I am on a train to Berwick upon Tweed at the moment, and am eating smoked salmon sandwiches and drinking gin and tonic. I am in First Class, because there was a special offer. It is very exciting. I have free wifi, and free food and drink and I am on my way to Lindisfarne, where I will stay for 3 nights and visit the castle and work on my edits of my (finished and submitted) novel set there and check I have the location details completely right (I worked from maps and memory).  I felt a little daunted about this trip and being so far away from home, but so far so good. I couldn’t go the first time I booked this trip because I was ill, but now, second time around, I am having a lovely time.


A few weeks ago I went to Hackney, to Millfield Community school, and talked to children about my first novel, ‘Girl with a White Dog’. I should have gone a few months ago, but again, around the same time I had to cancel the first Lindisfarne trip, I was ill and had to cancel this visit too. The date was rearranged by the charity which had asked me to go (and was paying me). As the new date approached I was bit daunted, but it was one of the most rewarding and fun days I have ever had. The children were so enthusiastic and engaged and excited about meeting a writer and the staff were so welcoming. I really admired them all.  At one point I couldn’t speak because I thought I would cry. I got the most lovely letters and cards afterwards which I will keep all my life. I am even getting paid for it! I had a lovely time.

Then, a week later, I was back in London talking about my second MG novel ‘Dog Ears’, because children in Lambeth had voted it on to the shortlist of the Phoenix Book Awards. I was so moved to see children stand up on stage and act out a scene from it, and also read out why they wanted it to win. I also met a lovely author, Jane Elson,  whose book ‘ How to Fly with Broken Wings’ was also shortlisted. Neither of us won, but we sold lots of books and signed lots, and just had a really lovely, lovely time meeting the librarians, teachers and children. One of the girls gave me a beautiful bracelet I will cherish, and I felt so, so happy to meet the actual readers of my books, and to find out that ‘Dog Ears’ had meant so much to a group of London girls from such different backgrounds to mine.

I want to write this because the writing life can be hard. We can all worry about money, and ideas, and sales, and whether we are good enough. But sometimes it is just wonderful. 

And above all, it is the writing. I love it. I have so many ideas and I have so many books I want to write. I feel so, so lucky that at the age of 51 I have a job where my job is to think of stories. I have been imagining stories all my life - I have been writing all my life - and it is so, so lovely to find that I now have a lovely agent and publishers and readers who are pleased I am doing it. What I love doing makes other people happy - how wonderful is that?



So this is a post about being grateful and happy. The writing life can be lonely and worrying and the sensitivity of writers can work against us. Today I have lots of ideas - tomorrow I may doubt them. We can imagine bad things very easily.

But today I am not going to let myself imagine bad things - I am going to  imagine only good things - publishing deals and lovely books and  readers. I am going to sit in my first class carriage and enjoy every minute. I am having a lovely time.



Jane Elson and I having a lovely time!

Friday, 20 May 2016

3000 Empty Chairs - Joan Lennon


The first chair by Jackie Morris

It started with Nicola Davies' poem The Day the War Came, written to draw attention to the UK's decision not to give safe haven to 3000 unaccompanied Syrian refugee children.  From there it has grown into a call for illustrators, authors, readers, parents, children to each contribute an image of an empty chair.  

Until there are 3000 of them.  

To say we disagree.

Please, consider sending an image.  It's not about your artistic skill.  It's about being part of an evolving symbol of support.  Teachers, parents - there's still time to let your pupils and children get involved.  

It's on Twitter at (hash)3000chairs and on the online Guardian page - have a look here for the details, and get drawing!  (Or painting or photographing or making a chair shape out of pebbles or post-it notes or ...) 

Thank you.


Also, if you've missed Tess Berry-Hart's powerful and useful posts about the refugee situation here on ABBA, just type her name into the Search this Blog box over on the right - well worth reading!


Joan Lennon's website.
Joan Lennon's blog.
Silver Skin website.