Friday, 16 November 2018

The Notebooks of Never Letting Go by Claire Fayers


Like most writers, I hoard notebooks. Hordes of them. And I never throw any away so the numbers keep increasing.

I love the convenience of technology: I can type faster than I can write, online backups mean I never worry about losing data, electronic indexing means I can skim through everything and find what I’m looking for in record time.

But notebooks have their own convenience. They’re lighter than a laptop to carry, easy to stick in a pocket in case I get the urge to scribble a few lines.

Also, people get very worried when they see you writing in a notebook, and you can have some interesting conversations when they ask you what you think you’re doing (maybe that’s just me?) People who wouldn’t bat an eye if they saw you taking notes on your phone seem to think a notebook is somehow scary and official.

Actually, I find that the opposite is true. I love notebooks because they’re not official. When I sit at the computer I feel that it is ‘proper’ work and I have to get things right, which doesn’t help me when I’m trying to cobble together a first draft out of nothing.

But a notebook can be scrawled and scribbled in, filled with random lists of words, arrows pointing between pages, crossings out and notes in the margins. And, because there’s no index, I love going back through old notebooks and discovering jottings that I’d long forgotten (hence never throwing them away.)

Just for fun, here’s a jaunt through some of my favourite notebooks, inside and out.


The Notebook of Many Projects


 


I like this one because it has multiple sections, which, if I’m feeling organised, I can use for different projects. The page is from my first jottings for my second ‘Onion’ adventure, which became Journey to Dragon Island. None of these ideas made it into the final book, which is reassuring and reminds me that my first notes don’t have to be any good, they just need to be a starting point.


The Notebook of Flowers and Signatures



 





I bought this little notebook in France I love the pretty Monet cover and it’s a handy pocket-size - which means it has become quite battered from travelling shoved into a small space. I especially like these pages – my first attempts at working out my ‘book signing’ signature. How many other people have done this?


The Notebook of Insufficient Cartoon Penguins


 


My husband bought me this one for Christmas one year. Given my love of penguins and writing, it could have been made especially for me. I confess, I haven’t drawn nearly enough penguins, but here’s one of my random lists of favourite things. If I’m stuck for ideas, I’ll often make these lists and see if anything jumps out.

The Notebook of Not Dropping Things


 


I cheated on my last book tour. The Book is a character in Mirror Magic – a talking, grumpy book of prophecy so I create a book prop. I used sticky tape to attach all my notes, including print-outs of readings, so it was all organised in one place. It meant I didn’t drop anything, didn’t forget where I was in my talk, and I could hold the book in one hand and gesticulate wildly with the other. Because everything is taped in, I can change my content with a little careful peeling. I recommend this method to everyone who’s prone to dropping things in front of an audience.


The Notebook of Mediocre Plans and Atrocious Maps


 


I love big notebooks. This one is A4 size and is great for scrawling in and being messy and disorganised at the start of a draft. My map-drawing skills are not the best (she says with gargantuan understatement) but when I'm inventing a new setting I find it useful to sketch out roughly where everything is. This is a very rough first attempt. I'll redo it a few times as the story progresses.

And finally...

The Notebook of Unbegun Terror 


 



My friend bought me this little beauty for my birthday and I haven’t dared write anything in it yet. I often ask children what they think authors are most afraid of and then show them a blank sheet of paper.

A blank page is terrifying in its perfection. One mark, one wrong word will spoil it.

But that’s what writing is all about, isn’t it – a glorious leap into the imperfect. And so, here goes…


Happy writing to you all!

Claire Fayers is the author of the Accidental Pirates series, Mirror Magic and Storm Hound. Website www.clairefayers.com Twitter @clairefayers




Thursday, 15 November 2018

Endurance 2.0 by Rowena House


This blog is short because I’m in a mood, mostly about the state of our Brexit-ing, badger-culling nation, although that news about David Walliams selling 111,057 copies of his latest book in three days didn’t help much. I mean, Jeez. How many copies of the damn thing are out there? Anyhow, there’s no point in dwelling so I won’t.

Back in January last year, when I must have been grumpy too, I began an ABBA blog with this quote from US screenwriting guru, Robert McKee: ‘Long before you finish [writing], the love of self will rot and die, the love of ideas sicken and perish...  Of all the reasons for wanting to write, the only one that nurtures us through time is love of the work itself.’

Sadly, at the moment, this ‘love of the work’ has slipped away, too. Not forever, I’m sure. It’s more like a kindly relative politely removing themselves from the equation because real life - family, the day job etc. - are taking up all of my headspace and there’s none left over for telling stories.

This is a weird feeling after more than a decade with characters chattering away in my imagination, or moodily silent but still there.

It’s also a shame after such an energizing time at the start of the month, when I talked and talked books and writing with fab fellow debuts, Tracey Mathais and Liz McWhirter at our inaugural book tour events in Scotland.

Then there was a lovely announcement that both The Goose Road and Liz’s Black Snow Falling had been nominated for the Carnegie Medal. How wonderful! A dream come true. I’m truly, madly, deeply grateful to whoever nominated my book.

Now you might think that, taken together, such good stuff would be enough to get the words flowing again. After all, lots of people have to steal, beg and borrow time out of their busy lives to write. But single-mindedness is a family trait. And, to be honest, I’m demotivated by the economics of this business, which put the biggest financial risks onto the author. But what the heck. We all know this. Short of a strike by every writer out there, it’s not going to change.  

So today I’m telling myself (once again) that it’s OK to stop writing for a while. Weeks, months, whatever it takes. It might feel like a luxury coming back.

I’ve thought before how keeping the desire to write alive is like tending an uncertain fire, feeding it at times, at other times trusting the embers will reignite. On this dark, chill November night, I hope your fire is burning brighter than mine.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Unusual Us and Vivid Vs by Lynne Benton


ALISON UTTLEY was born in 1884 in Derbyshire, and wrote over 100 books, though she is probably best-remembered for her children’s series of 38 books about Little Grey Rabbit (the first of these, The Squirrel, the Hare and the Little Grey Rabbit, was published in 1929)  She also wrote a pioneering time slip novel for children in 1939, A Traveller in Time, about the imprisoned Mary, Queen of Scots, which was adapted for children’s television in 1979.  Her other important work was The Country Child (1931), a fictionalized account of her childhood experiences at her family farm home.  In 1970 Manchester University awarded her an honorary degree in recognition of her literary work.  She died in 1976.


KAYE UMANSKY is an English poet and writer, who has written over 130 books for children, including the series about Pongwiffy the witch, for which she is particularly well-known.  The first of these, Pongwiffy: A Witch of Dirty Habits, was published in 1987, and there are now 7 in the series.  They have also been released as audiobooks, and as a cartoon series for television.  In addition to these she has written music books, along with plays, poems, novels and picture books, and was the first judge of the Roald Dahl Funny Prize for humorous children’s literature.  Her rhyming series about Jim, such as You need a Trim, Jim, are funny, perceptive and popular with 3-6 year-olds.  She lives in North London with her husband.


I could find no more notable Us (sorry if I’ve left out anyone vital!), so I’m moving on to the Vs.


ELFRIDA VIPONT was a Quaker author, born in Manchester in 1902, who was particularly interested in history, Quakerism and music.  As well as her books for adults she wrote nearly two dozen novels, stories and anthologies for children and young adults. The Lark in the Morn and The Lark on the Wing are among the best of these, and The Lark on the Wing won the Carnegie Medal in 1951.  In 1969 she collaborated with illustrator Raymond Briggs on a picture book for young children, The Elephant and the Bad Baby, published by Hamish Hamilton in 1969, which is possibly her most famous book.  She died in 1992.


CYNTHIA VOIGT, born in 1942, is an American writer of books for young adults dealing with various topics such as adventure, mystery, racism and child abuse. Her first book in the Tillerman family series, Homecoming, was nominated for several international prizes and adapted as a 1996 film.  Her novel Dicey’s Song won the 1983 Newbery Medal.  According to YA librarians, “Voigt's intense character studies introduce young adults to genuine people often isolated from society. While her characters may be orphaned, abandoned, disabled, their strength to overcome adversity is extraordinary.”  She lives in Maine, USA.



CHRIS VAN ALLSBURGH is an American illustrator and writer of children's books. He has won two Caldecott Medals for U.S. picture book illustration, for Jumanji (1981) and The Polar Express (1985), both of which he also wrote; both were later adapted as successful films.  He has written and illustrated about twenty books, and for his contribution as a children's illustrator he was 1986 U.S. nominee for the biennial, international Hans Christian Andersen Award.  He also received the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Michigan in April 2012.



MAX VELTHUIJS  (1923–2005) was a Dutch painter, illustrator and writer, one of the most famous children's illustrators in the Netherlands.  In 2004 he received the Hans Christian Andersen Medal for his "lasting contribution to children's literature".  He is best known for the Frog picture books (Dutch Wikipedia lists 21 titles). The first was Frog in Love, which was initially rejected by his Dutch publishers but taken on by Andersen Press in 1989 and then gained global recognition.  In 2003 it was adapted as a children's play and performed by the Tiebreak Theatre Company at Norwich Playhouse.  Frog is a Hero was included in the British National Curriculum.  Velthuijs died in The Hague in 2005.



JULES VERNE was a French novelist, poet and playwright, born in 1823.  His widely popular series of adventure novels, though written originally for adults, have become popular throughout the world with children too.  This could be partly due to the highly abridged translations in which his novels are often reprinted, as well as to several film and television adaptations making them accessible to all ages.  The most notable of these are Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1864), Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870), and Around the World in Eighty Days (1873).  .



He died in 1905.

That's the end of my Us and Vivid Vs.  Next time I'll be on to the Wonderful Ws, of which there are several.  I'm looking forward to it!


Website: www. lynnebenton.com


Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Pages Of The Sea; Pages of Books by Sheena Wilkinson

Last month I was whingeing on expressing concern about how much travel I was doing. This month I want to share two lovely writerly experiences which happened within a few miles from my home.

my local area 
First, the local Community Association’s Book Group had chosen Star By Star  as their November book, and I was in the strange position of listening to local people, some of whom I knew, some of whom were strangers, tell me what they thought about my book. Luckily they seemed to like it, and their insights were fascinating. I had set the book locally, but changed names and a few topographical features to suit the story, and some people recognised Cuanbeg as Newcastle, whereas some were convinced it was in another county altogether. 


They were all adults, middle-aged and older, but weren’t put off by the fact that the book was primarily aimed at teenagers. Sometimes I answered questions, but on a couple of occasions I was able to sit back and let them argue a point – which was odd but delightful, like eavesdropping on gossip about your nearest and dearest  

As a writer working from home, and a single person in a very traditional, family-oriented rural community – to which I moved only 16 years ago, it’s easy to feel isolated from neighbours. This lovely meeting reminded me that there was no need for that. I have now joined the Book Group. 

This was a small-scale event. The second experience was nationwide, and yet also intensely local and intimate. Like many of this Blog’s readers I spent several hours of Sunday 11thNovember on the beach at Danny Boyle’s Pages Of The Sea artwork, commissioned as part of the 14-18 Now commemorations. Sand portraits of participants in WW1 – mainly soldiers of course but also nurses, chaplains and others – were etched on the sand, and taken away by the tide.

Murlough beach just before the tide came in 

 My local beach is Murlough, County Down, under the shadow of the Mourne mountains. Star By Star and my earlier WW1 novel Name Upon Name are set wholly or partly in the area, and both of them explore the lives of local soldiers. When I was asked by the Nerve Centre, who co-ordinated the event at Murlough, to lead the crowd in reading Carol Ann Duffy’s searing poem ‘A Wound In Time’ I was immensely honoured. Out of all the opportunities my books have given me, this has to be the most moving.

I arrived at the beach in pouring rain at 8 a.m. The sand portrait of our chosen local solider, Rifleman John McCance, was already in place, and volunteers, including children, were raking the sand to form lines of silhouettes of more people. John McCance was born in Dundrum, less than a mile from the beach we stood on, and enlisted in nearby Downpatrick, where my own soldier grandfather was stationed twenty years later, before he too left these shores to fight in the Second World War. McCance died at Passchendaele and like so many others has no known grave. He is commemorated on the Tyne Cot memorial, along with 35,000 others. I visited Tyne Cot in 2004 and was overwhelmed by the scale of it. 

My own, much less impressive picture of the portrait
Pages of the Sea was also on a huge scale, with events taking place all round the coastline of these islands, and yet it was very personal and local too. Relatives of John McCance attended.  For me, it was a ten-minute drive on country roads, but many people had made long early-morning journeys. A choir sang local traditional songs, and then I led the reading of the poem. I hadn’t expected people to join in but everyone did. By then the rain had stopped and the morning was calm. Against the swish and roll of the incoming tide we read Duffy’s powerful words. And when we dispersed, to go about out normal Sundays, John McCance’s portrait had gone, taken by the sea much more gently than lives were taken at Passchendaele.


Monday, 12 November 2018

Disability and Exploitation; A Foray into Dark Places

Disability and Exploitation; A Foray into Dark Places


                                                             
                                                               
There are very few Young Adult authors who have written about disability and exploitation, which is probably why so many people have asked me why I decided to do this in my debut novel, Rosie Loves Jack.

Discussion of any kind like this is rare, but I feel it is important to bring this subject out into the open as its exposition can only be valuable for young people, especially within the safe pages of a book.

My character Rosie has Down's syndrome; this doesn't define her - she is a typical sixteen year old teenager. She lives in a world where issues of sexual exploitation are there for us to see and her journey in the book is, sadly, a reflection of life and one which we can't escape from with the media.

Any young person out in a city like London, by themselves, unsure of where to go is vulnerable but a person with a learning disability is much more innocent, naive and open to predators. A street-wise teenager might be able to navigate getting lost in a big city more easily, but they are equally fooled by people and situations, because at sixteen you think you know it all - and in that sense it makes you as vulnerable.

 It seemed a probable progression in my story that my character, Rosie would put her trust in someone who could manipulate her for their own ends - and that I could use this to highlight these issues. There will always be those who prey on the vulnerable and although a lot of the time it won't end like Rosie's journey, into a grooming house where young girls are exploited for sexual favours, it can and does happen. ( Though I must emphasise here that I would never have let anything actually happen to my teenager with Down's syndrome as I felt that the underlying threat was enough.)

My daughter works with young girls who have been groomed and I was shocked to discover that sexual exploitation amongst children with disabilities - physical and learning disabilities is equally as extensive as those without. It is not just in certain ares of the country either, like Rochdale or Oxford, but all over the country and not just in urban settings.

Why don't we talk about this exploitation? For a start, people with disabilities are under-represented in the media and, until recently, have been excluded from mainstream education. They can also live in care homes -  all of which keeps them on the edge of society; out of sight out of mind. 

Sexual exploitation hasn’t been thought of in the context of applying to a person with a disability until it was at the forefront of the news with the revelation of Jimmy Savile’s exploits and the abuses discovered at the Winterbourne View Care Home for those with learning disabilities. We might listen with horror to these terrible stories of abuse but it stays within the television 'box' and gets left in the care home for others to sort out, as it’s too awful to think about. We can’t imagine doing anything so dreadful to someone so vulnerable ourselves, so we would rather not dwell on it. That leaves us with nothing to discuss…


 Sexual activity for people with learning disabilities is something that’s rarely ever discussed in a good, healthy, loving context either, as it’s too embarrassing and is seen as a topic that shouldn’t even happen. It becomes another taboo subject to be swept under the carpet. If there were more books with characters like Rosie in them and in films, on television and in advertising, then they would be seen as the human beings they are like everyone else, with the same emotions and desires to be loved, to love and to be accepted without limitations. Through this would come understanding and from that more open discussions.
Any sort of discussion about abuse or sexual exploitation has tended to be covered up and kept secret until recently, shame silencing people more often than not because it has been a family member doing the abusing or exploiting.  For the victim themselves the feelings of guilt, shame and fear that they carry with them, for life, is often a silencer - and because many have been told if they speak out about it something terrible might happen, either to them or someone else in the family. It can take years to feel safe enough to talk. Then when they do, as with the group of girls in the Rochdale cases, you might not be believed or ‘interrogated’ to the point that it becomes part of the problem. The knock on effect from this is that it perpetuates the rarity of discussion around it because discussion starts with the victim. Of course, if you are a victim without the means to express yourself verbally, then the silence is deafening. 
So, my foray into dark places in my novel, Rosie Loves Jack, was not sensationalistic, but a genuine attempt to raise awareness of such an important topic. I truly hope that bringing this into the story  can give young people who read the book an understanding that will lead to more open discussion, in a non-threatening framework.
Mel Darbon
@DarbonMel
@meldarbon 
#RosieLovesJack
www.Usborne.com/ReadRosie

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Secrets of the Green Room - Kelly McCaughrain


Actually, today I appear to have replaced memes with bullet points (mostly) in order to bring you...

Things I learned at panel events this year!

First, the general stuff -
  • The publisher pays for your hotel and travel to go to these things (score!).
  • Sometimes the panel moderator will tell you the questions in advance, sometimes they won’t.
  • Waiting to go on is worse than being on.
  • Your editor will be completely sympathetic about your nerves. She’s probably a shy, bookish type herself.
  • Every writer has a publicist/press officer following them around and looking after them at events, like a dæmon in His Dark Materials. It’s so cool. I had one too, but she was there to look after way more important Walker writers than me.
  • The green room is full of snacks but you will be too nervous to eat them.
  • Don’t even think about going to a YA event if you don’t know what Hogwarts House you’re in. Just do the test.

Hufflepuff rules! (In an unobtrusive way)

This year I was thrilled (and when I say thrilled, I mean bricking it) to be on panels at both YALC in London and DeptCon4 in Ireland. DeptCon is organised by Easons’ Department 51 and is a two-day event. This year had 10 panels (plus a DnD sesh) featuring about 35 writers.

My panel, with Katherine Webber

Signing with Simon James Green and Sebastien de Castell! 



Being one of the few complete newbies in the group, I was a little awestruck. You could tell I was the newbie because:
  • I went to all the panels (except the DnD because it was either eat or faint at that point)
  • I took notes
  • I brought all my books and asked people to sign them in the green room
  • I was shamelessly fangirling all over the place


If you think I’m exaggerating about the fangirling, here’s a brief resume of my lifelong history of embarrassing myself in front of writers I admire:
  • Marilynne Robinson had to tell me to stop asking questions so someone else could ask one.
  • George Saunders had to introduce himself to me because I couldn’t speak.
  • Roddy Doyle agreed to read my book (possibly to get rid of me).
  • Susin Nielsen probably thinks I’m a crazy stalker after I ran up to her on the street in the dark yelling, ‘Oh wow, you’re Susin Nielsen!!!’ Which she probably already knew.


Me and Susin. I think I genuinely frightened the poor woman.

I am very shy, and I deal with this by either gushing at jet-lagged writers in a hyper manner or running away to eat crisps in the hotel instead of hanging out in the green room with the cool people. But I did make it to the pub at DeptCon and managed to chat to a few of my heroes.

And it turns out, the interesting things writers say on their panels aren’t half as interesting as the things they say in the pub afterwards.


I love talking to writers who’ve been publishing longer than me (and that was all of them) because there’s always something to learn. I found myself mainly chatting about the dreaded Second Book Syndrome. I went to the conference feeling like a bit of a fraud because I’m finding my second book so hard, and I expected to come away feeling even worse, having been surrounded by ‘proper’ writers for two days. In fact, I came away feeling hugely reassured, because EVERYONE has been there. And they’re perfectly willing to tell you about it.

I was so inspired I scribbled notes on what they said (when I got back to the hotel, I’m not a complete loser. And I didn’t have a pen).

So I’m going to give you a recap of the helpful advice they gave me. I’m not going to ascribe names, (because I didn’t ask anyone if I could quote them and also I wouldn’t be quoting word for word, these are just my summaries) but they came from the likes of Susin Nielsen, Deidre Sullivan, Tina Callaghan, Sebastien de Castell, Juno Dawson, Simon James Green, Brian Conaghan, Louise O’Neill, Tom Pollock and Patrick Ness, as well as some publicists whose names I didn’t get. Some of them came from conversations in the pub, and some were things people said in panels.
Enjoy!
  • The book I’m publishing next was started 6 years ago. Never throw anything out.
  • Read This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett.
  • Be kind to yourself, ignore the mean voice in your head.
  • You must have a conflict engine in each act. Something that generates conflict after conflict.
  • The first time I wrote a book under contract was book 5 and it was the first one I found hugely difficult and I swore I’d never do it again. But it’s hard to say no to security.
  • Don’t read books on craft. They paralyse you.
  • Read Big Magic.
  • Don’t give up today because tomorrow could be the day it happens.
  • I’ve told my agent that I want to write the next one without a contract. I’d rather write it first and then try to sell it even if there’s a risk it won’t sell. 
  • If you wouldn’t bother finishing it if you knew it would never get published, you shouldn’t be writing it at all.
  • I’ve never written 2 books in the same way.
  • Sometimes you have to abandon things but never throw them out, you can come back to them later.
  • Even when you’re published you totally fangirl over meeting other writers.
  • It gets harder with every book.
  • Read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.
  • I hate prizes, even when I win. It’s best to ignore everything that’s written about you.
  • Your book should have things in it that you didn’t know were there, that come out as if by magic when you’re done, because the whole is more than the sum of its parts. But if you plan it all to death and try to fit it to a formula, you won’t get those bits. You’ll probably delete them before you’re done because they don’t fit the plan.
  • Writing a sequel can be a good way to avoid second book syndrome because you don’t have to fall in love with new characters. But then your third book will be your second book.
  • Get feedback on your work before you send it out. Learn to ask for help.
  • Be resilient. Do something else that’s creative when you’re stuck, don’t force it.
  • You write your first book not knowing how to write a book. Then you think, ‘I’m a proper writer now, I should start learning about writing,’ so you read up on craft and story theory and you try to make book two fit a formula and it doesn’t work.
  • Don’t let them cast 31 year olds to play the 16 year olds in the film of your book.
  • It’s not fair that American books dominate the market.
  • The work is the antidote for everything.
  • Anyone can start a book. Writers finish them. If you’re obsessively going back over the first three chapters, stop. Finish the book.
  • Talent is almost irrelevant. It’s more important to enjoy it enough to do the work to make it good.
  • I panicked after my first book was published, and the next one I wrote was rejected by the publisher.
  • The publisher will want you to produce something similar to your first book and not take any risks.
  • Perfectionism is the enemy of creativity.
  • If your book is out of stock at Waterstones etc, tell your publicist. They can give them a nudge.
  • If you believe the good stuff that’s said about you, you have to believe the bad so it’s best to ignore it all.
  • For the publisher, if you don’t publish something within a year of your first book, then it doesn’t really matter when the second one comes out, it can wait.
  • I felt like, if I hadn’t already been with them, my publisher wouldn’t have accepted my second book, so I took it elsewhere.
  • Write a story, not a sermon. The things you care about will come out in the story. If they don’t, you’re writing the wrong story.
  • I had 217 rejections in 10 years before my first book was published.
  • If your shoe has a hole in it, and it’s raining, wear the hotel shower cap over your sock.
I thought it was very interesting that at least three different writers told me they hate writing under contract/refuse to write under contract ever again. And someone told me about a publisher who only gives one-book contracts for that reason. Is this the future? And is it a good thing? Is it a move towards a sort of zero-hours contract situation for writers, or is it a move towards flexi-time and a healthier working environment? Security or freedom?




Kelly McCaughrain is the author of the YA novel Flying Tips for Flightless Birds

She blogs about Writing, Gardening and VW Campervanning at weewideworld.blogspot.co.uk 

@KMcCaughrain 





Saturday, 10 November 2018

Teaching World War One, and thoughts on history non-fiction. Moira Butterfield

How can we educate children about the conflicts of the past? I saw a wonderful example last week when I visited Wells Cathedral, just to mosey around, and I came upon something amazing – a really great example of education. A stunningly laid-out poppy display (see pic below) led up cathedral stairs to a Chapter House. I noticed that the display made everyone who saw it stand stock still for a moment and stare speechlessly, but once in the Chapter House there was something else really outstanding to see. It was full of the work of children from local village schools around Somerset.  They had produced art and information displays based on their research on the impact of World War One in their own villages. The names on the memorials they passed by every day had been made real for them as they had researched and imagined what it would be like to be people from their village during the war. What a clever way to spark their imagination and get them really engaged in history. The work was of a very high standard, and the pupils’ strong response to the topic shone out. I didn’t take photos of their work, but if you happen to live in the area do go and see it.

The poppies leading up to the display in Wells Cathedral Chapter House 

 
Apropos of this, it’s National Non-Fiction Month in November and that’s a very good thing because the Federation of Children’s Book Groups is focusing on some of the great non-fiction that we are lucky enough to have out there. It’s in the limelight at last and that’s all good, but there’s one non-fiction book strand - British History – which appears to be on its way out. It’s dying due to lack of money from schools (they can't afford to buy the books) and the punitive economics of trying to produce books that don’t sell internationally (the small print runs have become miniscule). I once wrote a lot of educational history books specifically for the UK curriculum, but the fees involved are now just too low to pay for the time needed for research and writing, and there is so little investment that one cheap or free photo per spread is the only visual element allowed. The designer must do everything fast – meaning each spread is done to the same template. The results are not dynamic. 
  
It’s a shame because kids trying to find facts by surfing the internet won’t get the benefit of an author sifting history for examples that will spark their imagination. But that’s the way of the economic world, and perhaps self-publishing could be the direction to go for British non-fiction children’s authors who want to explore UK subjects such as the Celts, the arrival of the Vikings and the Anglo-Saxons, or the impact of history in their local area, for example. 

It’s important for children to know, is it not, that we were once connected by land to Europe - that we are a mixture of many peoples - that we have had refugees before - that the conflicts of the world do touch us….Well, you know all that full well, being authors, and thank goodness some of our number have written great historical novels. There is an international market for those, and they seem ever more vital. 

   
In the meantime, here’s hoping for a re-invention of kids’ non-fiction history books in the UK, using a model that’s financially viable as well as engaging, and hats off to those teachers who helped the Somerset village children to engage so well with World War One, and to Wells Cathedral for mounting the display so beautifully.

Moira Butterfield has written a number on children's non-fiction books. Her series FOUND!, for Franklin Watts, was her way of getting children to engage in curriculum history - by looking at real archaeological finds they could relate to. 

www.moirabutterfield.com 
Twitter: #moiraworld
Instagram: #moirabutterfieldauthor 

Keep up-to-date with National Non-fiction Month by searching for the Twitter tag #NNFM