Saturday, 22 September 2018

Plot, by Dan Metcalf

Cory Doctorow is a writer, journalist, speaker and editor of BoingBoing. He's a smart chap and has lots to say on the subject of media, creative commons and open source amongst other topics, but I found myself reflecting recently on a piece he did a while back on the subject of plot:

...my favorite (sic), foolproof way to start a story is with a person in a place with a problem, preferably in the first sentence. A named person in a defined setting is a signal to the reader’s human-being-simulator to get started assembling a skeletal frame upon which to hang future details about this ‘‘person.’’
When you add a ‘‘problem’’ – even something as trivial as a hangnail – you snag the reader’s rubbernecking impulse. Any problem out there in the world is a chance for hungry, canny minds to benefit from someone else’s hard-earned experience. It’s a siren song for our base nosiness.
From Locus
Which is a great tip for how to start your story, if in doubt. Announce who the person is and what their complication is. Usually they attempt to fix it, and things get worse, kickstarting the story proper. Read the rest of the article to get a great explanation of why plots are funny things.

This all got me thinking about my relationship to plots. I like plots. I like the shape of a story and have become fascinated with techniques of how to craft yours. I may even have an over-reliance on them. I hoard them like Scrooge McDuck and his money pit. 



On my shelf I can see Robert McKee’s Story, Syd Field’s Screenplay and Screenwriter’s Workbook. I have John Yorke’s Into The Woods on my kindle account, and the boxes up in the attic contain myriad writing books, from the Teach Yourself series to Stephen King’s On Writing and the granddaddy of them all, Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces. I even printed out every article I could find on Dan Harmon’s Story Embryo (which is definitely my favourite) and bound it into a file for easy reference. And I know that I will eventually succumb and get Save the Cat by Blake Snyder and whatever else comes onto the market. I’m OBSESSED. I’ve even begun to craft my own plot masterclass, which combines three or four of the above techniques (I’m calling it the Pizza Plot Method – catchy?)

But that’s normal, right? I am a writer after all, and I studied scriptwriting at university, back in the 1900s. Scriptwriters are notoriously plot obsessed, and the structure of a film can make or break it at the box office. (Just thought of another book I have devoured – The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler)
But my worry is that I flit and fly between so many different plotting techniques that I don’t truly know what would happen if I just let the story happen. If I let it write itself. Without the plot techniques crafted by others, am I even a decent writer? (Standard writer insecurity, I know)

I never sacrifice character for the sake of plot, which is good, but does my reliance on plot make the story less organic? Could I even let myself sit down and ‘pants’ a draft of a book? (I acknowledge that the term ‘pants’ is a strange one, but it here means to ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ IE. to write without a plan. More HERE).

Do you plot? What’s your go-to plotting method? Are you a pantser through and through? Am I nuts? Let me know in the comments.

Dan Metcalf is a writer of books for children. His new book Dino Wars: The Trials of Terror is out on the 28th of September from Maverick Books. More at danmetcalf.co.uk/dinowars

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Ofsted and reading by Anne Booth


Ofsted and reading by Anne Booth



It is 06.27 and I have suddenly realised that it is the 20th September and I haven't written my blog post for today. But, thanks to a meeting I had yesterday, I know what I am going to write.

Yesterday I went shopping with my husband and two youngest daughters to get things for university. They are twins and both of them are leaving home within the next week (hence my preoccupation and forgetfulness about this blog post)

ANYWAY.

I bumped into a local school librarian.

Just before World Book Day this year, I was contacted by this librarian. The writer who had been booked to come to the librarian's primary school had had to cancel at the last minute, and the librarian was very apologetic about  such short notice, but she wondered if I could come instead. I would be paid.

So I went, and I was so glad. I was so well looked after and I felt very valued, and I know that my visit was helpful as the school librarian has kept in touch with me and given me feedback about various reluctant readers starting to write and read after my visit. Every time I get an email from her I feel better about myself - and this has continued long after March. If she can have such an effect on the confidence of a writer - imagine how good she is for the children she meets every day.

The school librarian works part-time as a librarian and part-time in the office - I think it is to do with school attendance. She knows every single pupil.

The school is a state school, with a high proportion of children from economically  disadvantaged backgrounds, so, of course, thanks to a change in funding policy by this government, it is one of those schools which is losing most of its money in the cuts.  AAAGH.

And yet the library is WONDERFUL.

Honestly, I cannot stress enough how impressed I was. This school librarian is working with both children and teachers and is putting great effort into making a lovely, welcoming place with a great range of reading material. The school has given her a good budget for this, and really values reading. I was so privileged to do that school visit, and have since donated some books and chose to launch the first book of my series called 'The Magical Kingdom of Birds' there. Oh yes, and she makes the effort to NOT buy books at huge discounts, as she feels it is unfair for the authors. And she organised the sale of my books for me and got stock in via the local Waterstones, so I didn't have to worry at all.

She doesn't even 'just' see the library as for the children - she is aware of the need to organise literacy support for the parents too, so that homes can be more places where reading isn't feared.

Basically, the school librarian I met is AMAZING. And her work, valued by the wise Head, is vital for the school and the wider school community.



I bumped into this wonderful woman yesterday. She said that the school had just had two days of OFSTED. 

I said 'I bet they were impressed by the library.' 

And she made a sad face and said 'They weren't interested.'

They didn't even ask to speak to her.  I think she may have even said they didn't even visit it.

And she said 'I even missed seeing Cressida Cowell at Waterstones because of preparing.'

And I feel furious. I have been into this wonderful state primary school and I have seen how teachers and pupils use the library, and I have been into classes and given an assembly and launched my book there and talked to pupils and I have seen their faces light up with enthusiasm about reading, and I know that was very much because their school librarian has made them excited about it and supports and encourages their teachers. And I have recognised myself in those students, as I grew up on a council estate with parents who had very little money and  felt intimidated by those who used 'big words' and disempowered by their own relationship with them, but wanted more for me. I can see how her care for both pupils and their families, and her encouraging them with reading, is one of the greatest things the children will receive in that school.

But Ofsted isn't interested. It seems. Incredibly and depressingly. Though see my P.S.



So I am writing my 4th book for the series I launched. Unfortunately it won't be out until next year, but it will be dedicated to this school librarian, one of the most wonderful and dedicated people I have met as a writer. I do mention her in the back in the acknowledgements to 'The Ice Swans', the second book in the series, out soon (shameless plug there!)

And if anyone knows Cressida Cowell, please can they somehow arrange my lovely librarian gets to meet her. They can contact me at twitter as @Bridgeanne (I have deleted her name as I realised I didn't ask her permission to write it)


Because she deserves it.


P.S. I am still hoping that Ofsted DID visit the library when she was busy doing something else and will rave about it and her in their report. I still don't understand why they didn't bother to interview the librarian, but maybe they heard such good reports about her they didn't need to. If they DO report on the library and praise her I will tell you.




Opportunities for Young Writers - Joan Lennon

It's the autumn term, and here are a few exciting opportunities for young writers to get their teeth into. These can be life-changing experiences, and if you know anyone who might like to have a go, make sure they know what's on offer -

What's Your Story? Development Project
(open to 13-19 year-old writers and illustrators in Scotland)



The Young Sir Walter Scott Prize 
(for young people in the UK, in two age groups: 11-15 years old, and 16-19 years old)





YWSP workshop at Holkam


The Pushkin Prize

(open to students in S1 and S2 in Scotland)



What opportunities for young writers have you come across, in the UK or other parts of the world?  Share them in the comments below, and then let's spread the word! 


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

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Saying Goodbye to Childhood at Four-Years-Old


Thank you to Lu Hersey for letting me use her slot today. This is my first blog for ABBA and I'd like to thank you all for allowing me the space to talk about something that means so much to me - my brother, Guy, who has severe autism. I hope you enjoy  reading it.

                                                           
                                           
                                                                My brother Guy 2018


Saying Goodbye to Childhood at Four-Years-Old.

“We have a policy of dealing with people like you here.” These were the words spoken to my brother Guy as we sat in a taxi from the airport heading into Johannesburg. For once my father was speechless, as were the rest of the family, shocked into silence by those heartless words. I was twenty at the time, my brother sixteen. We were in South Africa because of my father’s work and because he had felt it would be an education for us to see what it was really like out there. It was a decision that we all too soon regretted, as Guy was viewed with callous indifference or active dislike while we were there.  

Although my brother has no means of verbally expressing how this must have made him feel, his actions conveyed how upset he was, as his face twisted into distorted facial expressions giving rise to more stares and comments. My mother, Guy, my older brother Russell and I escaped into Kruger Park to see the wild animals, preferring to face a muscle-bound predator than the intolerance that was unfolding before us.

                                                             
               
                                                                    Me, Guy and Russell 1966

  I was four years old when my brother Guy was born. I realized even then that nothing was ever going to be the same again - and for my older brother and I it meant saying goodbye to our childhood and understanding that all the choices made by our parents wouldn’t be directly about us anymore. 

It soon became apparent that my brother had very severe disabilities – but it wasn’t until many years later that he was diagnosed with autism – the type that’s so severe it requires constant care, as he cannot look after any of his own physical needs and has limited language.

 I adored Guy right from the start and was desperate to help feed him and look after him. My mother would prop him up on the sofa with pillows and let me give him his bottle, but I could never get him to look at me. Instead he would stare at the brightly lit bulb hanging from the ceiling, unblinking, for the whole time he was feeding. I tried it myself but couldn’t last more than a few seconds as my eyes watered up and I’d have to look away. I remember being in awe of this skill that my brother had, little realising at the time how much it already told my mum and my dad that something was terribly wrong.

                                                             
   
                                                                Me, my mother and Guy 1968

As he grew older the symptoms became only too obvious, including the terrible tantrums as my brother navigated a world that confused and terrified him. The trouble was we didn’t always know what it was that set him off – it could be something as insignificant to us as a speck of dust on his hand or a look from a stranger, or, as has developed in recent years, an aversion to stairs. This means every route has to be planned to avoid this obstacle. 

I remember how upset he could become on car journeys and would stroke his back for hours to keep him calm and sing his favourite Cliff Richard song, Summer Holiday. I still know all the words off by heart! Guy loved the film that the song came from, (which I must have seen over two hundred times), because it all happened on a London Transport double decker bus and buses were Guy’s passion - and still are. I’ve spent more time riding on the top deck of a London B bus than anyone I know; plus every Saturday he has to go to W.H.Smiths to buy his weekly bus magazine. It’s not a good weekend when he can only get one with trains, unless it has the Dawlish Line service on the front…

                                                           

                                             My mother and Guy with his favourite bus tee shirt


My brother was a very beautiful child, which didn’t help when he had his meltdowns, because there was no indication that anything was wrong. One day, when I was nine years old and Guy was five, we were out shopping in town when Guy exploded in a tantrum, shouting, kicking and screaming. Several people came up to us, not to offer help, but to berate my mother, telling her she was a disgrace, that my brother’s behaviour was disgusting and that he aught to be put away. 

I couldn't understand why some people were so judgemental. I wanted to tell them to 'put on my brother's shoes' for a moment and try to comprehend what it was like to be him, locked in a world that made no sense to him, a world where even in his sleep he is tortured by his dreams, shouting out in the middle of the night; a world where he cannot show or tell us he is in pain - and once ended up in hospital with an abscess under his tooth, which the doctor said must have been agony.  

I always knew that one day I would give my brother a voice, because I wanted people to see that his life is not unworthy and that we need to look beyond disability to ability. His life has fuelled my desire to help dispel the myths of disability because I need to make it clear that when you have a brother like mine the positives far outstrip the negatives. My brother has taught me compassion, kindness, patience and the ability to empathize. My love for him is boundless and although he cannot express emotion himself, when I visit him now he greets me by placing his head on my shoulder and saying, "My Mel". This simple statement means more to me than a thousand words ever could. I am the person I am today because of my brother and I can't thank him enough.

                             
                  Guy and I making nibbles for lunch                                                             
                                                       
  

                             
                                                                                                      
                                                                                                  Me and my older brother Russell 1966

I'm going to leave the last words to my brother - because I haven't mentioned the laughs we've all had with him over the years. We were at a restaurant trying to enjoy Sunday lunch for a birthday celebration. Two women sat whispering, pointing and shaking their heads at Guy, whose facial expressions gave away the fact that he had a learning disability. During a lull in the conversation across the whole restaurant, Guy, in one of his rare moments of lucidity, turned to the two ladies and with perfect comic timing said in a loud voice, " And you can shut up!" I can still hear the laughter and applause from all the other customers ringing in my ears.

                                                            

                
                                                My favourite hippo made for me by Guy in his art class

Mel Darbon
www.meldarbon.com
@DarbonMel
@meldarbon

                       

Monday, 17 September 2018

Collecting Book Towns by Tracy Darnton


I was given the lovely Book Towns by Alex Johnson when I reached a certain age by one of the kids. Turns out my mid-life crisis is not to get a motorbike or do the Marathon des Sables but rather to tick off visits to book towns. 

Most recently I visited Fjaerland in Norway. This is not a place you just pop out to. But I like to earn my ticks so I went from Bath via YALC at Olympia, Heathrow to Oslo, train to Myrdal, mountain railway via Kjosfossen Waterfall to Flåm, boat to Balestrand, and finally smaller boat to Fjaerland on the Sognefjord, in the shadow of the Jostedalsbreen glacier. 



Room with a view




I suspect there may have been a quicker way but my way was worth it for the breathtaking scenery on the journey. It was such a beautiful calming place. We had the best meal we had in Norway and the quirkiest room at the Fjaerland Fjordstue hotel with a stunning view of the colourful fjord. 

It was the perfect place to chill, write and, of course, read. And the walking was a winning literary combination of Heidi and the Hobbit’s Misty Mountains: 






My purchases were limited as nearly all the books were in Norwegian. I have six words of Norwegian and I’m not even sure how to spell those but luckily I always like musty old books and looking at vintage covers and generally mooching about in old sheds.


And, on reflection, since I’m incapable of visiting Hay-on-Wye without coming away with a bagful of books to add to the TBR pile, visiting only foreign book towns in future could be the way to go.



In short, Fjaerland was one of those places that’s good for the soul. So when I am long gone and my current shiny debut The Truth About Lies is remaindered or pulped, I hope a copy finds its way down the fjords to Fjaerland to see out its days on a shelf with a beautiful view. 


Next stop…Wigtown or Buenos Aires.

Follow Tracy on Twitter @TracyDarnton

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Book Events for Authors and Organisers - Claire Fayers


I was standing outside Cardiff University, waiting to meet Muhammad Khan off the bus for the first ever YALit Cardiff event when my phone rang.

“I’m here,” Muhammad said. “I’m outside Debenhams.”

I looked around at the street with its distinct lack of Debenhamses or visible buses. “Um, when you say ‘here’, where exactly do you mean?”

I thought I knew what went on behind the scenes at an author event, so when my friend, Karen Bultiauw, suggested organising a YA panel in Cardiff, I eagerly agreed to help. Karen is a book publicist and has all the know-how, and I… well I thought how hard can it be?

I hadn’t imagined blisteringly hot weather and lost authors. Muhammad, it turned out, had got off the bus a town too soon. My husband made a mad dash in the car to pick him up while I ran to buy extra bottes of water for the sweltering audience and we were ready to go.

Our first event was great fun and we’re hoping to run them every quarter. As Karen is the expert on events, I’ve invited her along to answer a few questions.


Karen quizzes our panel on fantasy and contemporary fiction.


What gave you the idea for YA Lit Cardiff?

I’m a massive YA lover so I’d selfishly organised a few YA author panel events while I managed Octavo’s Book Café in Cardiff Bay. Once I became a publicist I noticed that nobody else was doing events for a teen audience. So thinking that I’d done this all before I decided to do it myself.

What’s the hardest thing about organising an event?

Getting everything and everyone agreed on the same date/place with enough of a buffer time-wise to promote the event.

For YA Lit Cardiff we really needed a central location which was a challenge. Luckily the wonderful children’s librarians are super passionate about YA and were excited for the events. Plus we have good contacts with the independent bookshops so Griffin was happy to come on board.

Considering our base in Cardiff another challenge is to get publishers to send authors to our events. Everything is organised on a voluntary basis and we wanted to keep the ticket price as low as possible to keep it accessible for teens (and to encourage them to buy books of course…).

What do you love most about author events?

I love to hear authors speak about their books. As I chair the panel events, I always read at least the newest release by each author and it’s fascinating to hear about what they loved about writing it, where their struggles were, etc.

I also love how many of the same people come to book events every time there is one in Cardiff. It’s starting to become a community which is fantastic.

Any advice for someone thinking of organising their own event?

Start at your local bookshop and see if they would like to be the venue – that way you have your book sales already sorted and probably already some kind of audience they can promote the event to.

Try to team up with other local authors to do duo events or even a panel event – asking a local book blogger to chair the event is always a good idea.

What can authors do to make sure their events go well?

A lot will depend on the genre/age category you write for but in general: have your own audience ready and be prepared for the fact that some events will be duds with barely anyone showing up.
I always tell authors that you can’t expect people to come out of the comfort of their homes for you if they haven’t at least interacted with you online or in person before. Start with events in your hometown where you have a network and then work your way out.

Always have back-up books with you – bookshops will be quite conservative when ordering in stock, especially if it’s your first event with them. I’ve had multiple events before where we ran out of books but luckily I had some from the publisher or the author had brought author copies. You can’t sell a book that’s not there…

And finally: have fun. This is your opportunity to meet readers, people who are your tribe and a fantastic author interaction can make a casual reader into a career-long supporter.

PS: This goes without saying but: take care of yourself. If face-to-face events are not something you’re up to or you have anxiety about groups, etc there are plenty of other ways to get the word out about you and your books. In my opinion online is the foundation of self-promotion for authors, everything else is the cherry on top.

The next YALit Cardiff event is on September 30th at Cardiff Central Library, when we’ll be welcoming Tracy Darnton, Katherine Webber and Savita Kalhan. They will all have special instructions to get off the bus at the right stop.

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Book Two, the long view - Rowena House


Book Two isn’t so much gestating as morphing, like some alien creature of an unknown species, uncontainable in time or space except for its broadest “on brand” parameters: World War II and France.

If it does turn out to be the love story that so far I’ve imagined, then I know the lovers’ names. I thought I knew what she wanted and needed, too, but lately his story has come into sharper focus than hers, so I’m going to start over again, experimenting with a dual point-of-view and third person (past tense), breaking out of my comfort zone of first person present.

When I have the time, that is.
 
Which is now far, far scarcer than it was. Which means I won’t need to plan another launch party any time soon. Which is sad, but there you go: needs must and advances everywhere are low.

I am researching facts. Facts are good. Knowledge is addictive, as I remembered when looking back at past ABBA blogs, and finding one about a New Scientist article that described how the brain’s reward centres light up when we discover something new.

My bedside table is piled high with WW2 non-fiction and fiction, each book teeming with light bulb moments. That’s not procrastinating, right? It’s just being thorough.

Recently I finished Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky, a beautifully written, inter-linked series of stories set in the earliest years of the war and the German Occupation of northern and western France. I’d taken it with me to Paris in late August to read slowly and deliciously in Marais cafes, the Palais Royal and the gardens of the Tuileries.

The stories remain unfinished as Ms Nemirovsky was deported to Auschwitz, where she died in 1942. I wonder if she would have published her first two suites in their original form, depicting some Germans so tenderly, had she survived.

As a researcher, and human being, I’d like to find an answer to that question.
 
As a writer, however, it is enough to have glimpsed her world, devoid of hindsight, to read about the raw fear of her characters, and the psychology of those with an inclination towards collaboration, and the pettiness of a time when all were ignorant of the horrors to come.

Such an avoidance of hindsight is, for me, one of the greatest challenges of writing historical fiction. As creators of credible characters, I believe we have to believe in our characters’ expectations of the future, even if they’re almost certainly wrong. Granting them clairvoyance seems to me to be fundamentally dishonest; we serve today's readers far better by rejecting self-serving mythologies and lazy nostalgia.
 
For my debut novel, The Goose Road, isolating a peasant girl from any false knowledge of the significance of her times was relatively easy: 1916 was a pivotal year in the First World War, and therefore containable, especially after my editor asked me not to dwell on subsequent, and consequent events – the Spanish influenza pandemics of 1918 and 1919. 


 
World War II feels different somehow, perhaps because it is closer in time and there are still survivors. The facts remain contested, too, as well as the simple duality of Us Good, Them Bad. Research has opened my eyes to the full contribution of the Red Army, which was blurred in my youth by the Cold War and lack of access to Soviet archives.
 
In Paris last month, I  stumbled across etched marble memorial panels to the dead Jewish children of the Marais, public expressions of remorse and responsibility for the deportation of Jews by the French authorities which weren't there in the late 1980s when I lived in that district.
 
Seeing these memorials made me rethink the reasons why I had decided to set Book Two in the Marais. Familiarity didn't seem enough any more, since any character living there would surely have known what was going on, and would therefore have to bear some responsibility, as witnesses if nothing else. But I've no intention of writing about the Holocaust; the death camps aren’t places I’m willing to enter as a fiction writer.

That led me deeper into questions about whose story I do want to write - and why - which inevitably raised issues of cultural appropriation. My protagonist in The Goose Road is also French, a 14 year old peasant. It didn’t worry me when writing her story that I am none of these things. Why, then, should telling the love story of Manon Lecoeur be different?

I discussed this briefly with a charming bookseller in the Hotel de Sully’s bookshop, which specialises in the history of Paris. He said I was welcome to write about a Parisian girl in 1944. His city belonged to the world to reimagine, he said. I thanked him most sincerely, and accepted that as permission to go ahead.

Which only left the small matters of a plot,  POVs, settings, tone, voice etc. etc.

Presumably they will come, given enough time and effort, enough patience and determination, plus the money for more research, and the gift of good sense to recognise moments of clarity,  and the willpower to keep going and going and going...
 
Gosh, wouldn't a bit of clairvoyance be nice to know if any of it will be worthwhile in the end?

Website: rowenahouse.com

Twitter: @houserowena

Instagram: @rowena.houseauthor or @rowenahouse

Friday, 14 September 2018

Some Splendid Ss by Lynne Benton


There are quite a lot of splendid Ss, so here we go…

MALCOLM SAVILLE was one of my favourite authors when I was growing up, though his books are no longer as popular as they were.  He described the Shropshire countryside so well that I felt a strong pull towards the place, and even the names of the Long Mynd, the Stiperstones and Church Stretton still give me a shiver of excitement all these years later.  First introduced to me at the age of 11 by my form teacher, the books about the four, six or sometimes eight children who made up the Lone Pine Club inspired me to form an offshoot Lone Pine Club with my friend, though unsurprisingly we never had the sort of adventures Saville’s characters did.  He wrote his first book, Mystery at Witchend, in 1943 when his children had been evacuated to Shropshire from their home in Hertfordshire. It was followed by a further 19 books in the Lone Pine series, as well as several other series of books for children, and many of his 90 books were broadcast by the BBC.  He died in 1982.


LOUIS SACHAR is an American young-adult mystery-comedy author, best known for the award-winning Holes, which won the 1998 US National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and the 1999 Newbery Medal for the year’s “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.  In 2003 Disney turned the book into a film, with Sachar himself writing the screenplay.  He lives in Texas.


CATHERINE STORR was an English children's writer born in 1913, best known for a series of books about a wolf ineffectually pursuing a young girl who outwits him every time, beginning with Clever Polly and the Stupid Wolf (1955), which she wrote for her daughter Polly.  In 1958 she wrote a novel for slightly older children called Marianne Dreams.  This book was made into the TV series Escape Into Night and the film Paperhouse, though she was not fond of the latter, especially the ending.  Her books often involve confronting fears, even in the lighthearted Polly stories, and she was aware that she wrote frightening stories, but felt that reading about evil gave children some power over it.  She worked as a doctor for some years while regularly producing new children’s books, and she continued writing until she died in London in 2001, aged 89.


ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON, born in Edinburgh in 1850, was a Scottish writer, poet and musician, whose most famous works are Treasure Island, Kidnapped, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde and A Child’s Garden of Verses.   He grew up in Scotland but he suffered from poor health all his life, exacerbated by cold and damp, so after frequent trips to Europe and America, on his doctor’s advice he spent most of his adult life living in warmer climes.  He died in Samoa in 1894 at the age of 44.


MAURICE SENDAK was an American illustrator and writer of children’s books.  Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1928, to Jewish-Polish parents, his childhood was affected by the death of many of his family members during the Holocaust.  He became widely known for his book Where the Wild Things Are, first published in 1963.   He also wrote works such as In the Night Kitchen, Outside Over There, and illustrated many works by other authors including the Little Bear books by Else Holmelund Minarik.  In 1970 he received the third biennial Hans Christian Andersen Award for Illustration, recognizing his "lasting contribution to children's literature".  He died in 2012.


ROSEMARY SUTCLIFF was an English novelist best known for her children’s books, especially historical fiction and retellings of myths and legends.  When very young she was stricken with Still’s Disease, and spent most of her life in a wheelchair, but wrote incessantly throughout her life.  Inspired by the children’s historical novels of Geoffrey Trease, her first published book was   The Chronicles of Robin Hood in 1950. In 1954, she published what remains her best-known work The Eagle of the Ninth, part of a series of 8 books on Roman Britain and its aftermath, and this was followed by many other novels for children and adults.  For her contribution as a children's writer Sutcliff was a runner-up for the Hans Christian Andersen Medal in 1974, and the third book in her Eagle series, The Lantern Bearers, won the Carnegie medal in 1959.  She was also awarded the OBE in 1975 and the CBE in 1992, shortly before her death in Sussex. 


JEREMY STRONG was born in London in 1949 and following a spell as a teacher and head teacher, now writes humorous books for children, mainly of junior school age.  These include My Mum's Going to Explode (2001) and There's a Viking in my Bed (1991), which was dramatised for Children's BBC Television.  In 2001 the Federation of Children’s Book Groups named his I’m Telling you, They’re Aliens one of the 50 best children’s books of the year, and in 2003 Krazy Kow Saves the World - Well, Almost (2002) won the same honour.  Several of his stories have been adapted for BBC Radio.  He now lives in Somerset and is currently leading a 'Campaign for Fun', to encourage reading for pleasure.


JOHANNA SPYRI was born in Switzerland in 1857.  She wrote many novels, especially for children, but is best-known for her book Heidi.  Heidi is the story of an orphan girl who lives with her grandfather in the Swiss Alps, and is famous for its vivid portrayal of the landscape.  She died in 1901.


NOEL STREATFEILD was another of my favourite authors when I was growing up.  I listened avidly to her books broadcast on Children’s Hour on the BBC, and borrowed those and others from the library.  She was born in 1895, the second of five surviving children of a vicarage family (hence her close experience of and sympathy for children born into large impoverished families) and worked for ten years as an actress.  She later used her familiarity with the stage as the basis for many of her popular books for children, which were often about children struggling with careers in the arts.  She is best known for her children’s books including the “Shoes” books, such as Ballet Shoes, (1936) her first book, which was commended for the Carnegie medal and launched a successful career in writing. This was swiftly followed by Tennis Shoes and Circus Shoes, which won the Carnegie medal in 1938, and others including Party Shoes and my own favourite White Boots (originally entitled Skating Shoes.)  Several of her books have been adapted for television, and in 2007 Granada television adapted Ballet Shoes as a full-length feature film starring Victoria Wood and Emma Watson. She won the OBE in 1983 and died in 1986.


ANNA SEWELL, born in Great Yarmouth in 1820, is also famous for one particular book.  In 1877, when she was 57, her only novel Black Beauty was published, and is now recognised as one of the top ten best selling novels for children ever created.  At the age of 14 she injured both her ankles, and from then on used horse-drawn carriages to get about.  This contributed to her love of horses and concern for the humane treatment of animals.  Although the book is now considered a children's classic, Sewell originally wrote it for those who worked with horses, hoping to induce an understanding treatment of them and reduce cruelty to them, and the book, written from the point of view of the horse himself, could be said to have achieved this aim.  She became very ill shortly after the book’s publication, and died soon afterwards in 1878.


DR. SEUSS is the pen-name of Theodor Seuss "Ted" Geisel, and American children’s author, political cartoonist, poet, animator, screenwriter, filmmaker and artist.  Born in 1904, he is best known for his work writing and illustrating more than 60 books under the pen name Dr Seuss, and his work includes many of the most popular children's books of all time, selling over 600 million copies and being translated into more than 20 languages by the time of his death.  He published his first book, And to Think that I saw it on Mulberry Street, in 1937.  During WWII he took a brief break from writing to draw political cartoons, but after the war he returned to children’s books.  In May 1954, Life magazine published a report on illiteracy among school children which concluded that children were not learning to read because their books were boring. William Ellsworth Spaulding, the director of the education division at Houghton Mifflin, compiled a list of 348 words that he felt were important for first-graders to recognize. He asked Geisel to cut the list to 250 words and to write a book using only those words.  Spaulding challenged Geisel to "bring back a book children can't put down".  Nine months later, Geisel completed The Cat in the Hat, using 236 of the words given to him. It retained the drawing style, verse rhythms, and all the imaginative power of his earlier works but, because of its simplified vocabulary, it could be read by beginning readers. The Cat in the Hat and subsequent books written for young children achieved significant international success and they remain very popular today. In 2009, Green Eggs and Ham sold 540,366 copies, The Cat in the Hat sold 452,258 copies, and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish (1960) sold 409,068 copies—outselling the majority of newly published children's books.  In 1984 he won a special Pulitzer Prize for his "contribution over nearly half a century to the education and enjoyment of America's children and their parents".  He died in 1991.