Friday, 6 March 2015

World Book Week – Cecilia Busby

It's Friday of World Book Week, and I am currently busy waving my arms and telling stories and answering questions and encouraging creativity in a primary school in Cornwall. (Of course I am writing this in advance, rather than taking time out of my lively interactive sessions to write my blog post!)

I really enjoy doing school visits, and that's mainly because the children seem to enjoy them. There's a huge buzz to be got out of watching thirty children with bits of paper and pencils, busy creating amazing words and ideas - all sparked off by your words, your books and your enthusiasm for writing and for the imagination. It's probably the closest I've ever got to being a celebrity, too - for many primary school children. you're the next best thing to J.K. Rowling, and they are amazingly keen to have you sign their planners, random scraps of paper, even their arms. Who could resist this kind of excitement generated by one's simple presence?!

I also know, having seen a few school author visits from the other side, just how valuable they can be. And as a Patron of Reading I get to hear from the teachers of the longer-term effects of visits. The excitement and chatter generated by a visit, and the increased levels of reading and talking about books, are noticeable for weeks afterwards.

So it's fabulous that this week, all over the country, there are schools celebrating books and doing this by inviting authors in to talk to their children. I have been zipping around like a flea - in Chelmsford on Monday, Devon on Tuesday, Wokingham on Thursday and Cornwall on Friday - by tomorrow I will be lying in a darkened room with a wet cloth over my head.

I do wish, though, that schools thought about books and authors on the other 39 weeks of the academic year. There are lots of us out there who are happy to come and inspire children at any time - whether it's in September, January or July!

Cecilia Busby writes fantasy adventures for children aged 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)

Thursday, 5 March 2015

So You Want to be a Writer... by Savita Kalhan

In a recent YouGov poll, a respectably large sample of 14, 294 people in Britain were polled as to what professions they would choose to pursue out of an array of 31 professions. These included standard middle-class professions such as doctor, lawyer and accountant, well-paid jobs such as investment banker, aspirational jobs such as TV presenter, Formula 1 driver, Olympic athlete, astronaut (!), and Hollywood movie star, as well as standard jobs such as estate agent, taxi driver and flight attendant.  

Surprisingly, being an author was the number one most desired job in Britain, with 60% of the sample choosing to be an author! Perhaps even more surprisingly, given that libraries are being closed left, right and centre, being a librarian was the second most desired job, with 54% of the sample choosing to be a librarian. I’m not sure there are enough libraries left for the number of people wanting to be librarians, if the survey is to be believed! Still, with the expansion of tertiary education in recent years, Briton's third favourite choice of profession (50% of the YouGov sample) is perhaps a more sensible choice for Britain's apparent majority of bookish types.

Can it really be true, that Britain, once derided as a nation of shopkeepers, then dismissed as a nation of parasitic bankers, investment bankers and real estate agents, has now evolved into a nation of would-be authors and librarians? As YouGov puts it: "Instead of actors and musicians, it seems that an aura of prestige still surrounds the quiet, intellectual life enjoyed by authors, librarians and academics."

I have to say that, notwithstanding YouGov's "quiet intellectual life" rationale, I am somewhat puzzled and bemused by the results of the YouGov poll, particularly in relation to authors and librarians. More popular than being investment bankers or MPs - yes, I can see that, given recent history, notwithsanding the pay and perks; but more popular than Hollywood movie stars?

Is it really possible that being an author is seen as a glamorous profession? Is it perhaps still seen by the general public  as a high-earning profession? Or do people think that a book can be thrown together relatively quickly, without having to get out of your pyjamas and then perhaps the rest of the day can be spent in quiet contemplation, leisurely long walks and reading? Or is it perhaps because of the increased ease of self-publishing, the growth of epublishing via Amazon and other forums and the very occasional success story associated with self-publishing.

Based on the average annual earnings of a writer of about £11,000/yr, that means that should those 60% decide to give a writing career a go, they would, in all likelihood, be living below the poverty line. Some writers don’t even manage to scrape a living from writing: according to a US-based survey of 1,879 published authors carried out by Digital Book World earlier this year, almost a third of published authors make less than $500 (£350) a year from their writing. Only a tiny and, to borrow YouGov's terminology, statistically insignificant minority earn the big bucks. Read the full article here.

Of course, none of it can be achieved without a huge amount of discipline and hard graft, no matter how fast the story comes to you. And once the story is written – you have to sell it, which is another story entirely.

So while I absolutely love what I do, I don’t see it through rose-tinted glasses. It’s a tough business and getting tougher by the minute. But it’s good to know that the process of writing, being an author and being in and around libraries are still valued and held in such high regard.

Despite the public support for libraries, libraries are still closing. The recent #SaveBarnetLibraries campaign lost in the farcical council vote on Tuesday evening where the Mayor accidently voted FOR saving libraries and then ran away, before returning and changing the vote he had cast to AGAINST to chants calling for his resignation. Save Barnet Libraries Facebook page

Today is World Book Day and there are lots of events happening across ‘Bookish Britain.’ Look out for the online Teen Festival, which you can follow on Twitter, @WBDTeenFest, Facebook and Google. Here’s the link to the webpage

I’m off to talk about organising teen reading groups in Barnet libraries. Let’s see if we can’t still save a few more libraries!

On a final and very sad note, I wanted to add my voice to all those who are mourning the loss of Mal Peet, a great writer whose work touched many kids and adults. Mal Peet's first novel, Keeper, won the Branford Boase Award and the Bronze Nestle Children's Book Award; Tamar won the Carnegie Medal; and Exposure was the 2009 winner of the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize. Life: An Exploded Diagram, published in 2011, is an amazing book. The Murdstone Trilogy was published in November last year, and is his last book. It makes me unutterably sad that there will be no more books by him.   

Savita's website


Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Birds of a Feather are Gathering - David Thorpe

Since my post last month on cli-fi (climate fiction) there have been a couple of very nice developments involving authors crawling out of their garretts to coalesce around shared interests.

Climate Fiction Facebook group

This last post caused a flutter on Twitter which resulted in several climate fiction authors deciding to get together. There's safety in numbers.

The best platform we could find was to set up a Facebook group. Not ideal since not everyone is on Facebook: apologies to Nick Green!

Nevertheless anyone who either considers themselves be writing fiction connected with climate change, or who even touches upon it in some of their work, is welcome to join.

The aim of the group is to share experience, marketing, information, etc. the members so far include, besides yours truly:

One of our first achievements has been to be offered an event at next May's Hay Festival debating Cli-Fi. The discussion will be chaired by Jane Davidson, former Welsh Environment Minister, and will include two other panellists besides myself:
  1. Saci Lloyd author of The Carbon Diaries
  2. George Marshall, author of Don't Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change.
This is very exciting because I have always wanted to be on a panel at the Hay Festival! The discussion will take place on May 22 at 5.30 p.m. We hope to see you there.

Welsh Branch of SCBWI

The second exciting development is a new incarnation of the Welsh branch of the Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. 

As many of you will know this fantastic organisation has been going for about a decade in the UK and has some very dynamic regional groups. I was a member of about 6 to 8 years ago at which time I tried to start a Welsh branch, but it fell apart because members were too far apart.

(As an aside, it gave rise to the Dragontongue blog, which eventually merged with this one).

With the advent of some new Welsh writers joining SCBWI there has recently been a new impetus to start a group. At the moment it is only seeming to reach a saturation point (this is the point of geographical density at which writers will deign to venture out of their studios and coalesce together in a mutually agreed venue) in the south of Wales. Writers and illustrators up north in gog-land will have to wait.

Those joining up so far and signed up to the Facebook page include:

the regional coordinator

Our first South Wales meeting will be this Saturday at 11 AM in Calon Cafe and Interiors, 2 Mansel Street, SA31 1QX Carmarthen. Anyone is welcome to attend. I'm looking forward to it.

We will also be meeting at 2pm on Sunday 29 March at the Cardiff Children's Literature Festival, which any of you might also like to attend, and where we will be joining up with Malachy Doyle who has a session at 5 PM.

As they say here, Croeso i Bawb!

David Thorpe is the author of clifi YA fantasy Stormteller and the SF dystopia Hybrids. 

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Why I Can’t Live Without Books - Heather Dyer

I appeared at the Biggest Book Show on Earth this week. The authors were each asked to speak for 15 minutes on ‘Why I Can’t Live Without Books’.

Me wearing the wings. Photo a selfie courtesy of Shoo Rayner, fellow writer and illustrator, on the left!

Books allow us to step into other people’s shoes, and see how it feels to live other people’s lives. Books help us to empathise. Books allow us to meet larger-than-life characters, go to unfamiliar places, and witness extraordinary events. And they allow us to experience things that would never be possible in our real lives – things like flying!

As a child, all my favourite books had some flying in them. One of the first was Enid Blyton’s wonderful The Wishing Chair. How thrilling it was to read about the wooden chair that grew wings whenever Mollie and Peter least expected it – and carried them off to fantastical places.

And who could forget that flight across Narnia on the back of the winged horse, Fledge, in The Magician’s Nephew by C S Lewis?

Then there was the flying carpet in Nesbit’s The Phoenix and the Carpet. When the carpet grew threadbare and there was risk of falling through it, flying became even more exciting – and I cried when this book was finished.

But the most fantastical flying object must be the peach in Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach. James harnesses hundreds of seagulls to lift the peach out of the water and fly it across the Atlantic.

Flying has found its way into most of my own books too – be it by magic carpet, wings – or more unusual vehicles, like Elinor’s bedroom in The Flying Bedroom. 

Clearly, I have not lost my longing to leave the ground. Who has? Flying is really about freedom - about being light, about being able to leave your worries on the ground and about gaining a whole new perspective on the world – rather like books themselves.  

Monday, 2 March 2015

BOLOGNA AROUND THE CORNER and the pace hots up! – Dianne Hofmeyr


How can Bologna be just about upon us already? Every year I plan to go and every year, I leave it too late and am green with envy as the feedback comes in from other authors who are there.

Bologna – where exciting things happen – where the most innovative trends in children’s illustration at a world level are shown and where YA is hot! Heady stuff for authors!

confused authors mixing with the 'suits'
discovering new markets
bored family members trawling shops while writer does deals
tasting exotic food (don't think that's proscecco)
With apologies to the illustrators, Minjee Kim from Korea (first 2 pics), Becky Palmer from the UK (3rd pic) and Michio Watanabe from Japan (4th pic) whose work was on exhibition at last year's Bologna, for taking their illustrations out of context but they seemed to sum up some aspects of Bologna. 

This year I hope to have a YA novel as well as some picture books on offer. In the present picture book market, writer's ideas are often presented to publishers, fait accompli with a chosen illustrator doing a dummy and an example of an interior colour illustration ­– previously almost unheard of. Perhaps this is part of the quickening pace of today’s industry. Potential publishers want to see an idea and run with it as soon as possible. Selling a story with some idea of development hopefully achieves a concept that can be visualized and a fast sale. 

Recently I’ve had the excitement of working with two new illustrators – not new to illustrating, but new to me working with them. And what a great two way process it’s been. Whereas before one hardly knew one’s illustrator, now before the story is shown to a publisher, we are discussing various options and the story becomes more a meld of ideas where I change the text to suit the illustrator and the illustrator comes up with fresh concepts. A proper writer/illustrator collaboration. Marvellous! What an energising process.

So with the date around the corner, good luck to all of you presenting something at Bologna this year! And for those of you going… I'm still green!
twitter: @dihofmeyr

Her latest picture book, Zeraffa Giraffa illustrated by Jane Ray, published by Frances Lincoln, is on The Sunday Times List of Top 100 Modern Classics in the past 10 years.

Sunday, 1 March 2015


To my mind, February always ends suddenly, as if it decided to take a couple of days off without telling anybody. Two-headed January bumbles past but then - today! -  March is here and already and it's looking scarily busy. Not only do I have a couple of big family events, some World Book Day Week/Fortnight school visits to do - but I really, really need to get on with some writing.  

A little tense? Moi?

However, Eric Maisel, a creativity "guru", mentioned recently by Heather Dyer, offers an interesting concept. He believes artists have to face two kinds of anxieties.

On one hand, there are all the anxieties you suffer when you aren’t able to work for a variety of reasons. You’ll be anxious because you have no time to think, no time to turn the thoughts into words. You’ll feel the frustration of being caught by other demands, the sense of being suspended from what you should be doing, uncomfortable at a deep, gut level, even when you try to still the emotion. Recognise that feeling?

On the other hand, he says, are all the anxieties that come when you are working: all the self-doubt, the tangles in the working process, the crises of confidence, the feeling that the work is not going as it should, that it is no good, blah blah blah. Working is often uncomfortable too.

Eric Maisel suggests that the artist -  in this case, the writer -  is better off learning to accept that both states of anxiety constantly exist, rather than wasting energy over the conflict between the two states of mind. 

Maybe that's why the use of an outside device, such as the famous timer, acts as release from that transfixed "blank page" state?

In addition, I also heard – while busy with my tax returns - someone on the radio explaining that each time we spy an email, go to Facebook, play a quick game, tweet and so on, we get a buzz, a small dopamine reward. 

She said that the danger of those small social media "rewards" is that they help you procrastinate, and deter you from the harder and longer work where the rewards aren’t so quick. Oh bother!

Hmm. On one hand, some things to think about . . .

On the other hand, stop wasting time looking for "rewarding" answers.

Memo to self more than to others: GO DO THE WORDS!

Have a great World Book Day!
Penny Dolan

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Debut Author: Ten Questions You Will Get Asked - Clementine Beauvais

(Confession: this is an adaptation of an old blog post on my own blog, but I'm v v v busy this month sorry so I prefered to do this rather than dash off a sloppy new post (and also, almost no one read it the first time around anyway). )

Hello, debut author! Congratulations on the book deal! While you’re busy getting Vistaprint to produce acceptable promotional bookmarks, finding ways of getting better known on the Internet (don’t worry, no one actually has any idea how to), practicing answering ‘so what do you do?’ with ‘well, I’m a writer’, and fervently noting down what every single author, agent and editor blog says about what you should be doing or else, here’s my little contribution to your constant migraine: the 10 questions you will get asked by everyone, from complete randomers to your grandmother, within your first year of publication.
Oh you will have fun. Here we go.

10. ‘But like, how many, I mean like not exactly, but more or less, how many books have you sold, like, approximately?’

This question can occur at any time, including the day after publication. And you cannot be vague: even if the questioner is otherwise incapable of adding three and four without frantically reaching for a calculator, s/he wants numbers. Not sure why; but it is absolutely vital. Saying ‘Oh, it’s going well, I think’ will only drag you into a labyrinth of subdefinitions of the adverb ‘well’ associated to specific numerical values.
The assumption, you see, is that part of the induction ceremony into the Great Publishing Sect consists of implanting a magical chip in your brain which permanently connects you to every single online and brick-and-mortar bookshop in the whole world. Every time they sell one of your books, a little ringtone goes off in your skull. You can personalise this ringtone (I have the first few chords of Supermassive Black Hole). The latest version synchronises with your iPhone and compiles the data into easily understandable statistics.
How to get out of this tricky situation without having to reveal (that you have no idea about) the latest figures? The only solution is to say, with an expression of disdainful detachment which you shall practice in front of your mirror, ‘Not enough to pay for your Frappucino, you cheapskate.’

9. ‘Why aren’t you on an intergalactic promotional book tour?’

O friend, I share your perplexity. I too wish I were wanted from Johannesburg to Santa Monica by armies of fans with bellies and chests tattoed with my (probably misspelt) name. Unfortunately, this isn’t normally what happens to the debut author. Unless you are Pippa Middleton (in which case, please leave a comment explaining why Pilates doesn’t do to my body what it does to yours), you are relatively low on the list of people whom your otherwise lovely publisher would like to send on a first-class trip around the world. You might be invited to a few book fairs, bookshops and schools, but it will probably be Melbourne, East Anglia rather than its more glamorous Australian equivalent (unless you are from the suburbs of the latter).
The relentless questioner will not take this for an answer. Instead, offer the following explanation: ‘Because I would have missed the chance to be with you today.’ Then bat your eyelids.

8. ‘When will you be on the Oprah Winfrey show?’

(I don’t know if that thing still exists, by the way.) Your persecutor is here hunting for a Claim to Fame to disclose at the watercooler on Monday when Amanda of the green miniskirt is passing by. ‘I know a girl who knows *person on TV*’ is indeed guaranteed to saturate the ambient air with pheromones. They will not be happy to hear that you have given an interview to the work experience boy at the local newspaper. It will not satisfy them to know that people have blogged about your book. They want names. And yet, blogs are the best way for books to get known and promoted, as they are more influential than magazines and papers. But your questioner will not believe this.
Your best bet is to mention offhandedly that ‘Richard and Judy’ liked the book a lot, and you’re hoping she’ll do something with it. No one needs to know that Judy is your aunt’s dog-walker, and Richard the dog.

7. ‘So I went to Waterstones the other day and your book wasn’t there. That means it’s out of print or what?’

Yep, it’s only been a year but people hated it so forcefully that the publisher discontinued it, burnt all the stock and issued a public apology.
Your questioner is here betraying their vision of bookshops as a land of magic with unlimited storage space, very much like Mary Poppins’s bag. It would be very cruel to shatter their lovely dream with dull considerations of the fact that the number of books currently in print divided by the available squared metres in your average bookshop results in an imaginary number which spontaneously creates dangerous amounts of antimatter if it is written down or spoken.
What you want the person to do here is to order the book: that way, the bookshop will know that it’s wanted (and order more) and you will have sold another copy. But you don’t want them to know that your book isn’t still the number one favourite darling of said bookshop. So the only way is to say, ‘Oh dear, tell me about it. Every time they restock the shelves, they’re empty again within the next half hour. I would recommend ordering it; only way to make sure you can have it.’ Win.

6. ‘When’s the next one coming out?’

That one’s easy if you’ve got a multiple book deal, because it’s written in your contract. If not, it is a very stressful question, because of the existential vertigo it triggers in your insecure psyche. You are not allowed to take this as an opportunity to confess that you are terrified that your editor might not like the next one and stop loving you and that as a result your agent will slap you in the face and worst of all that the people who once ‘Liked’ your Facebook page will ‘Unlike’ it. This is not an acceptable response. You are not on a psychoanalyst’s sofa. This is war.
The perfect answer is a lie: ‘November 7th, 2016′. Repeat this to everyone who asks. Tell everyone who doesn’t ask. Write it on your blog. That way, there’ll be so much pressure to do it that you’ll actually write that second book. No choice.

5. ‘Do you Google your name everyday to see what people are saying about you?’

No need. I’ve installed a piece of software on my iPhone connected to the aforementioned chip in my brain and whenever my name appears in any corner of the world wide web another special ringtone reverberates through my skull (Lensky’s aria in Eugene Onegin).
People seem to assume that finding reviews of your books is always the most wonderful experience. And of course it is when they’re good, and of course there are (many) writers who get completely obsessive-compulsive with looking up reviews. But not me. If you do start looking for them, there’s always that horribly stressful feeling that you just don’t know what you’re going to end up finding.
It’s as if you could google your kid’s name and find reviews of the dear child. Of course, a lot of the time it’s all going to be ‘Sharon’s adorable little boy is a charming example of toddlerhood with perfectly rosy cheeks under an avalanche of cherubic curls’. But once in a while you’ll get the occasional ‘Scrawny-looking and relatively indistinguishable from a tiny piglet, Billy suffers from a worrying lack of vocabulary for an eighteen-month-old’. Maybe that would make you think twice before asking the world what it thinks of your progeny.
Your questioner will not agree with that, of course, so just evasively mention that you don’t need to because your mum and dad do it for you and select which ones they tell you about, haha! (and tragically it’s probably true, too.)

4. ‘Why don’t you translate your own books into French/ Chinese/ Martian to sell them abroad?’

(This isn’t a question asked to the chronically monolingual: lucky, lazy you!). This one primarily betrays a forgivable lack of knowledge of how the publishing industry works on an international level (clue: not like that).
But the more worrying (and frankly annoying) assumption is that any bilingual person can translate anything, including their own prose. What is the point, quel est le point, I ask you, of studying translation? Absolutely none. Bilingual people are naturally endowed with the gift of translation; fact. Any Jean-Pierre Dawson born of an English dad and a French mum can write with equal velocity and Booker/Goncourt-winning quality in both languages.Therefore, they can translate their own work, of course, since they wrote it to start with. The assumption is strengthened, of course, when you do write in both languages.
The only appeasing answer you can bring to this question is, ‘If I’m asked to, I might.’ But you might not. Because nothing, of course, guarantees that you are the best translator of your own words.

3. ‘Did you choose the illustrator/ the title/ the layout/ the cover/ the chapter headings font/ the ISBN/ etc?’

Niet. Nein. No. Non. … [I've run out of other languages]
This will not satisfy your well-intentioned questioner. ‘What!?! but it’s YOUR book!?! How come?!?’. They will think your editor is Really Mean. Then they will think you’re a Loser who only had Bad Ideas. Then they will laugh at you in secret. It will be the beginning of the end of your social respectability.
The problem here is that once again the writer is envisaged as a prodigy multitasker who must by definition know everything about what a book is. ‘Of course I chose the exact paper texture I wanted, 68.9g/mm and ivory-off-white with a tinge of cerulean’. The editor is just the person who makes the money. S/he has no experience and no right to interfere in the great creator’s vision of the work.
The truth is that making a book, for the editor, is about n-ego-tiating the author’s ego with the actual reality of the fact that the book has to sell and that their vision of a full-colour picture of a Murakami sculpture with the elliptic title ‘Albeit Capricious’ will not be the most efficient way of reaching out to the average Waterstones customer. And they will very probably be right.
You don’t want your questioner to ruin your professional life and career by spreading rumours about how powerless you are, of course, so the only acceptable answer is, ‘Oh of course I had a say’. And to be fair, you probably did.

2. ‘Which authors are you friends with now?’

This assumes that other authors are by necessity your best friends forever, just like all accountants flock together and all academics only have friends who are academics.
Ok, that last one may actually be true.
The fact is of course that there are many authors you are now friends with because they’re actually nice and others that you can’t stand because they’re terrible people, just like any other group. You are not automatically on the same wavelength as someone who writes in the same genre. It is also possible that you are not the kind of person who can bear the disproportionately huge ego of other writers on top of your own equally impressive self-confidence, especially as everyone is tragically plagued with crushing moments of doubt.
But the myth about birds of a feather must be maintained, so name all the writers that you’ve met, from the loveliest to the most unpleasant, and with a generous smile, tell your questioner that ‘They’re all amazing, what can I say? We’re like a big family.’
NB: Some people will also labour under the opposite delusion: that you are by necessity extremely jealous of all the other authors. This is a probable sign that they are themselves dangerous, envious, frustrated psychopaths will little experience of peaceful relationships. Cut all friendship ties immediately.

1. ‘Yeah ok so you write children’s books, right, but when are you going to write, like, real literature?’
When the rest of the world starts to understand that children’s literature is real literature.


Clementine Beauvais writes in French and English. She blogs here about children's literature and academia.