Thursday, 30 August 2012

A Win-Win Situation - Lynne Garner

Anyone who knows me will know I have a passion for British wildlife and one species in particular, the hedgehog. When I'm not teaching, writing, walking the dog, doing the housework etc. I work as part of a small voluntary group called Herts Hogline. This group rescues sick, injured and orphaned hedgehogs. It also aims to educate anyone who wishes to help support their local hedgehog population.

One of my tasks is to use my writing skills to:
  • Write up-dates for our Facebook page
  • Create posts for our blog: The Hedgehog Shed 
  • Craft tweets for our twitter account: follow us @hertshogline 
  • Draft features for magazines and local parish newsletters

What do I get out of this?

Well I'll be honest I'm being very selfish.

Firstly it makes me feel good. I'm putting back; I'm taking part in the 'big community' and helping support a species that is very dear to me.

Secondly, like any athlete a writer has to practice, practice and practice a little more. Writers have to flex that writing muscle and hone their writing skills. So all this writing ensures my writing muscle gets lots of extra exercise.

I view this as a win-win situation. I help them by spreading the word about their work and in the process I'm hoping to become a better writer.

So if you have a passion why not help a small local voluntary organisation by using your writing skills. You never know it may just help you to become a better writer to. 

Lynne Garner
Visit my blog: Fuelled By Hot Chocolate
Interested in all things picture book? Then visit The Picture Book Den
Want to discover great eBooks? Visit Authors Electric

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Out, damn blogspot - by Nicola Morgan

One of the good things about the online world is that we (anyone) can connect to and see the thoughts of people who don't think like us. It's mind-widening. One of the bad things about the online world is that we (anyone) can connect to and see the thoughts of people who don't think like us. It can be poisoning.

While it's very important to allow ourselves to be challenged by other viewpoints, when we are exposed too much to people who will never think like us and like whom we never wish to think, people whose views and/or behaviour feel jarring, stressful and mean-minded, the effect can be corrosive. If you're like me, disliking confrontation, believing that people are entitled to their views and feeling inhibited by either good manners or self-preservation from saying what we really think - not because we don't value our own opinions but because we have a life to live and work to do and genuine friends to enjoy and the belief that really life's too short to spend it jumping up and down shouting - then the very effort of not saying something, of not trying to explain why we think the views we've just read are misguided, is enormous. And corrosive.

And, more importantly, may stop us writing. I have recently decided that nothing is going to stop me writing.

When I was 50, I vowed not to spend time with people who made me feel angsty or negative. Before I'm 51, I'm going to do the same regarding reading stuff that makes me feel angsty and negative, by which I don't mean things I disagree with, as we should allow ourselves to be challenged, but things that are so discordant with what feels right to me and to how I see the world, that no good is gained from reading them. Here's how:
  • Next time a friend says, "Have you seen the nonsense on such-and-such blog?", I'm not even going to look. After all, if people don't like mine, I don't expect them to spend a second reading it.
  • Next time I'm thinking of writing a comment or email that's going to require really careful wording so as not to offend anyone, I'm not even going to start drafting the comment. How many hours have I spent doing that, only to discard the comment? How many chapters of a book could I have written instead?
  • Actually, I'm not even going to read the blogs of people I don't already respect or blogs that don't really interest me, interest me in a mind-opening way. There's too much good stuff to read - especially in libraries and bookshops. 
  • I'm going to remove Google alerts from my computer.
  • I'm never again going to read the comments beneath online news articles. (I really must remember that one.)
But more importantly than all this, I'm going to write - books for children. Lots of books, I hope! And I hope they'll be published. As I've said elsewhere, I'm stopping my Help! I Need a Publisher! blog next week, stopping giving advice to writers, because I think I've said it all. Probably several times. I plan one day to start another more gentle blog, and meanwhile will blog at Crabbit At Home. I've loved doing the advice blog but that and my self-publishing (which I have not enjoyed, despite having a useful income from it now - but that's a story for another day) have taken me away from what I love most about being a children's writer: bookshops, libraries, enthusiastic librarians, greedy readers, wide eyes, the gorgeous breathless silence of the transported child reader. 

I won't forget that online has also brought me new friends, new ideas, new readers. But there's often a stridency about the online world, and a shouty tribalism which I dislike immensely. I know the same happens in the "real" world, too, but rarely amongst the people I hang out with. I have to find a way to avoid the negative aspects of online, to use it as a tool and not a lifestyle. Perhaps it's the fabulousness of talking face-to-face with fellow writers during the Edinburgh Book Festival recently that's nailed this for me - there really is little better than sitting with people and talking books, seeing readers clutching books to be signed, and drinking in the enthusiasm for reading and writing. It pervades the air between our heads and breaches the void. It's what I want, more and more. So, school events, festivals, conferences between writers and/or readers - bring them on! 

Of course - if you know me! - I'm not becoming a hermit. I'm not really "going dark", but anything that stops me writing or corrodes the chance of heartsong has got to go. 

There, I said it. Now, I've just got to do it.

I'm sorry this has been all about me but actually I really want to know if it chimes with any of you, whether positively or not? 

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The Dreaded P-Word by Penny Dolan.

“Platform.” Grrr!!! 

Platform is one of the worst words in the world. “Platform” is what I’ve heard an author is supposed to build. It is definitely the opposite of writing.
I imagine an author platform as a kind of hammered-together, high-above-the-crowd kind of stage, constructed from the strained struts of these or those book titles. Every cross-timber is fastened firmly by pointed blogs, various on-line presences, knocked into place with the ever pounding hammers of social networking. 

 Even then, once set up, the author platform needs constant maintenance so it can grow brighter and brighter with every media mention. Doesn't it?

Certainly, the platform must be big, so there’s no danger of sudden plummets off the edges. At times there may be room for a few select authors alongside but essentially the author platform is a one-person kind of space.

I find that idea sad and scary. Alone up there. Think about it.  Here’s a question - and a few answers.

Why does one need to build a "platform"?

A "platform" is so that others can hear you talking above all the other voices.
But when I write, I’m only speaking to one person, in their head. That’s where any of my decibels come, inside my story, not at a rally.

A "platform" is so that the audience can see you above any others.
But I want to be seen through my words and through the characters in my books. That’s where authors are properly “seen”. Writing isn’t a catwalk, not in itself. Besides, it’s an impossible task. There’s a whole crowd of “platforms” now and there’ll be more by the time you’ve read to the end of this post. Assuming you do. Thank you.

A "platform" is so the audience can watch and admire your performance.
This feels like the age of the author as entertainer, or even the entertainer becoming author, as the ill-destined TV Book Club seemed to believe. But the writing doesn’t take place while wearing the Showcoat, or not in this house anyway.

The Showcoat is all about using one’s performance skills to give them out there a good time. The Writing Coat is all about keeping one’s behind on the seat, alone, for long hours. Besides, some of the best children’s writers are not natural entertainers and why should they be? The books speak for their authors. The comfortable introspection needed to build imaginary worlds – or adapt real ones – is miles away from the “Look at me dancing!” approach.

Children’s authors often find it wearying acting the Universal Showtime person, called in to entertain during the big Book Weeks and Literary Festivals and returning home to keeping up with the next round of Showtime demands. Some are even – gasp! - hanging up their blogs and stepping back to spend energies and time on the writing.

But isn’t a "platform" there so  you can go places?
Oh, platform as in Harry Potter. Now you see it. Now you don’t. Only magical people allowed. Hurry, or you’ll miss your chance. 

It seems to me that that particular platform can breed the kind of anxieties that make it hard for a writer to settle into their proper writing. The hours get eaten up by admin, or preparation, or crafting just the right tone of email instead of doing the real work on the page. 

(Or choosing the right shoes. Definitely not platform shoes.)

 Oh, wait a moment. Who is that speaking?

Pardon, mes petits! Je suis Madam Defarge. J'ecoute le mot “platform?”

Oh yes, There’s that other “platform” effect. Ker-chunk. It’s a bad place to be when you feel you're not wanted any more.

Of course the “author’s platform” offers opportunities, fun and occasional bad pinches. However, once the platform becomes your life, you might be in trouble. 

Especially when your books go out of print or when the audience is lured to something brighter (or even greyer.) The publicity platform can be a tricky, rickety place - and its wobbling under me right now.

Writing makes for far firmer ground. Keep at it – and good luck!

Penny Dolan 

Penny's latest novel is A BOY CALLED M.O.U.S.E (Bloomsbury), shortlisted for the Stockton Book Award, The West Sussex Book Award and the Historical Assocation Primary Fiction Award.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Should I have heard of you? - Lily Hyde

I’ve been travelling recently, meeting new people along the road with all the introductions and casual chit-chat that entails, and of course that includes the dreaded question “What do you do?”

I usually answer (feeling a bit fraudulent, because really this is only one of the things I do) “I’m a writer”.

“Really? That’s so interesting!” they cry. “That’s so much more interesting than my job. What kind of writer?”

“Novels and stories…” I hesitate, not really wanting to say the next bit, but what can I do, I’m a truthful person “…for children and teenagers.”

That’s when some of those people who thought my job was more interesting than theirs switch off. It’s as if I’ve cheated them. I’m not really a writer. I’m more like a primary school assistant maybe, or a child-minder – one of those jobs that is not respected in this country.

“How lovely,” they say, insincerely. “But you’re not JK Rowling, are you.” Or they frown and ask accusingly, as if I must only be in it for the easy money, or because it’s easy, “Why do you write for children?”

I only get this reaction in the UK. In other countries, people tend to be much more positive. But I’ve also noticed that in totalitarian countries like China and Russia, it makes me ‘safe’. Writers in general are to be feared, journalists even more so (I used to travel as a journalist). People are hesitant to talk to me. But say I am a children’s writer and all those fears and inhibitions vanish. If I write for children I must be a good and kind, honest and completely harmless person.

And yet I still feel I am taken seriously in a way I’m often not in the UK. In China, people told me there is no literature at all for children, and all of them grew up reading just a few Chinese classics like Journey to the West. Come and write books for Chinese children, they invited. We have nothing to read to our kids, no tradition of bedtime stories. That seemed so sad to me. And they felt it was sad, this great lack in their own lives, and this yearning to give their own children what they never had.  

In Britain, everyone says something about Harry Potter.

In Britain, people ask “Should I have heard of you?”

Fellow writers, how the hell do you answer that question?*  

On my latest trip round Scotland I’ve been put firmly in my place by a lady who lives next door to Julia Donaldson. An elderly Norwegian gentleman recited his poetry to me. Two delighted Italians demanded that I write my name down so they can look me up later and tell everyone they gave a famous author a lift (they’re going to be so disappointed if they do look me up). A lovely lady, mistaking my statement of fact for an expression of wishful thinking, told me she hoped all my dreams of being a children’s writer came true. And one Scottish university professor told me I was doing an important job.

Stick at it, he said. It’s so hard for kids today to find a space where they can really concentrate and be alone, at the same time as escaping into and thoroughly inhabiting the other worlds of fiction, with all their peoples and relationships and landscapes and habits… The books you write give them that space, if they want to find it.  

I think that was one of the nicest responses I’ve ever had. 

*I'll be travelling again when this is posted but will try and check your comments - I really do want to hear your answers!         

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Open for Business? By Cindy Jefferies

Cindy Jefferies

What is it about doors?
Well of course they make a rather hackneyed metaphor but the way I've been feeling recently they do seem to have been horribly cluttering up my brain with their clunking of latches, creaking of timber and squealing of hinges. That sounds like a pretty appalling sample of horror writing but maybe you get the idea.

I'm at that stage in writing where I have no idea if what I'm doing is good, bad or something in between and recently I've been struggling with a scene that simply didn't want to behave.

I tried everything and of course the answer was to abandon it, because it wasn't right for the character or the story. But that conclusion took a week or so to find and by then I'd hammered on just about every door in my brain that I thought might be barring the solution I thought I needed.

Brain work is surprisingly exhausting and although I'm pleased to have arrived at what I think (aghhh!) is the right solution to my problem I didn't have a lot of unbruised brain capacity available to write this blog. So I idly decided to have a look through my photographs to see if I had pictures of doors. Wow! Maybe I have a thing about them. Doors, doorways, windows too (but don't let's go there). Open, shut, teasingly ajar, beautiful, forbidding or just silly. I have many more pictures of doors than I realised. So here, as a nod to my recent brain activity are just a very few.

Feel free to take any good ideas that may seep under, flow out or even shout at you through a keyhole. But beware. The path to any door is fraught with difficulties, as the smiling worker above who has excavated, barrowed, shovelled and raked a path to the black door will attest. Be careful, watch your step and don't blame me if things go horribly wrong!

Friday, 24 August 2012

SHROPSHIRE YARNS - Pauline Fisk on what authors do when they're not writing

I’m on holiday, I’ve decided. I don’t want to think about books. That means I don’t want to think about writing them, researching for them, publishing them, most definitely not marketing them and not even reading them [because the minute I start reading, I want to write]. I don’t want to think about the grand e-books versus dead-tree book debate. I don’t want to analyse my reader statistics. I don’t want to work the social networks, certainly not after the bout of cyber-bullying I’ve just been through [if you want to know more about this, go to my August 21st post on Authors Electric].

I’ve had it with all that. It’s August. I want fun.

But what do authors do when they want fun [answers please on a postcard, or the comments section below this post will do]?  Well, this author weaves. It’s something I used to do when I was young, but my loom was stolen when our house was burgled and until a couple of years ago, I couldn’t afford to replace it.  Now, however, I have two looms – one for cloth, the other for woven tapestries. And for the last two years, I’ve been weaving for an exhibition that [panic] is coming up next month.

Tapestry weaving is very slow.  You sit at a loom all day, as I did yesterday, and weave no more than a foot square at most.  In this respect, it’s not much different to writing a novel.  In order to do it, you have to be comfortable with delayed gratification. A tapestry can take months before it’s ready to cut off the loom.  But, slow or not, it’s the perfect antidote to writing because it has no words.  It’s the perfect escape.  It’s better than the gym - which is where I used to go when I wanted to escape the novels writing themselves in my head, refusing to stop when the computer was switched off. 

It’s another world entirely.  One beyond words, where colour tells the stories and shape and texture all have interesting things to say.   Over the last couple of years, I’ve been working with the Burleigh Map of Tudor Shrewsbury, a small illustrated map of the town within the river loop, all its main streets and alleys still clearly identifiable today, breaking it into sections, blowing these up and turning them into a series tapestries. 

It’s extraordinary to think that this ancient map - commissioned by William Cecil as a gift for Elizabeth I - outlines a town that still is recognisable.  It’s not just the castle that I’ve woven, the churches and the ancient bridges [not to say anything of a few enormous swans], but shutts and passages that can still be found today and houses that I’ve been into myself and know well. 

Now I’m busy framing, ready for my exhibition, and the walls are filling up with the labours of my last two years.  They’re not abstract tapestries.  They all tell stories which are plain to see. I might be able to shake off words, but not my sense of narrative. Even as a weaver, I’m an author too.

I first fell in love with tapestry when, as a young weaver, I came across the weavers of Harania in Egypt.  Their vibrant tapestries, I discovered to my astonishment, had been produced by children.  Not child slave-workers, I hasten to add, but free children, working freely and creatively.  Extraordinarily, these children’s weavings weren’t part of a local tradition.  The village of Harania had no such tradition - which was why it had been selected for a great experiment.   

In mid-twentieth century Egypt, Wissa Wassa Wassef was a figure of William Morris stature. Wanting to prove that innate creative ability lies within all of us, he taught the principles of weaving to any of Harania’s children who were interested, provided them with materials and undertook to buy everything they made.  His only provisos were that the children should not look at works of art to find their inspiration, and that they shouldn’t make designs in advance but make design part of the weaving process, working directly on the loom.

The results of this experiment are quite literally stunning.   Do click the link above, to the Wissa Wassef Art Centre just outside Cairo for a real feast. You’ll be missing out if you don’t. As an untutored artist, I found myself overwhelmed with inspiration and determined to weave in the same way.  And when Harania came to London, I went down to the Barbican, met the weavers – all adults now and since then a second generation of child weavers have become adults too - watched them at their looms, their fingers flying, and came away with everything I could buy – postcards, posters, even one of the tapestries [which cost a lot at the time but, believe me, is worth a lot more now].

Weaving has been good to the people of Harania.  And they’ve been good to the world of contemporary tapestry.  Tapestry is an ancient art form. The Greeks considered it a vital element of interior decoration, the Romans valued tapestries so highly that they imported them from across the known world and back through the centuries, palaces and stately homes across Europe have all been decorated with tapestries.

Into the twentieth century, weavers like the great Frenchman, Jean Lurcat and the Polish weaver, Tadek Beutlich,  have inspired a whole army of modern-day tapestry weavers.  I know this for a fact, because I’ve recently become a member of the British Tapestry Group, and the range of work to be found in the UK today - not to say anything of the work coming out of the American Tapestry Alliance and other groups world wide - is absolutely breathtaking.

If you’re lucky enough to live within reach of Edinburgh, do visit the Dovecot’s ‘Weaving the Century’ Exhibition, which is on until the end of the month. The Dovecot was set up by Archie Brennan.  Do Google it or  him.  And whilst you’re at it, google Jean Lurcat too [here's an interesting link to a YouTube tour of his most famous 'Song of the World' tapestries], and the mighty French town of Angiers along with the word ‘tapestry’ and astonish yourself with the range of weavings – both medieval and twentieth century, that come up. There’s a place I’ve got to visit.  What a feast!

And, on a more mundane level, if you want to see what I’ve been up to, HERE is the link. The exhibition ‘Shropshire Yarns is a collaborative venture between myself and two other tapestry weavers, both members of the British Tapestry Group.  It’s our homage to a grand tradition and a celebration of Shropshire’s ancient history in the woollen and flax trade. Our exhibition will be on from 10th September to 13th October. The others have exhibited before, nationally and internationally, but this is a new departure for me.  I may have been weaving on and off for years, but this is my first proper exhibition – and I feel terrified and vulnerable, but very excited too.  

Our Private View will be on Friday 7th September, between 6.00 and 8.00pm.  If you live close enough, do come along.  And if you don’t – well, wish me luck.

For my new weaving website:
For more about my books and my writing life:

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Wolfie Hits Edinburgh! by Emma Barnes

To my mind, Edinburgh is the acme of Book Festivals. That doesn’t mean I don’t love visiting others too. But because it’s my original home town, Edinburgh will always be special.

 I’ve been going to Edinburgh for years – mostly to the children’s events. It was here, a few years back, that I got to see two of my childhood idols: Anthony Buckeridge, the creator of the hilarious Jennings, and Diana Wynne Jones, who wrote Howl’s Moving Castle.

I’ve been able to prowl around the fabulous book tents, scoff the fabulous ice-cream and even sneak into the authors’ yurt, when invited by my lovely publisher or author friends. So naturally it’s become a burning ambition to do an event at Edinburgh myself.

Last year it almost came true when my book How (Not) To Make Bad Children Good came out at the same time as the Festival, and I signed the first ever copy of the first edition in the Festival bookshop. And this year it finally happened. I was asked to do an event. I was to present my book, Wolfie – hot off the presses – to a tent full of Edinburgh school children.

Yay hay! In triumphant mood I went along to the yurt to collect my author’s pass and complimentary tickets. Complimentary tickets! I gloated over them for a little while. Then I had a quick nose into the yurt itself. It’s a lovely space, but at that moment bursting with scary looking literary types, all deep in conversation. I slunk out and decided to check out the book tent first.

Dismay! I couldn’t find my books. Then I realised they were there – and spread out over two stands.

I had a couple of days before my event and I made good use of them. One session I enjoyed was with sci-fi writer Neal Stephenson, and scientist and novelist Jennifer Rohmer, about the lack of scientists in fiction. I’m well aware of that. My own books, Jessica Haggerthwaite: Witch Dispatcher (and now Wolfie) are two of the few I’ve encountered for children where science is integral to the plot.

I also made a diversion to visit Parliament. The Holyrood one. As part of the Festival of Politics, there was a Carnegie-sponsored panel discussion on children’s reading, with author Theresa Breslin among others, and I was able to go along. 

Back at the Book Festival, I made a discovery. Not only is there the lovely authors’ yurt – with FREE CAKE – but there is even a special authors’ toilet. Who knows who you might bump into? 
And yesterday, my big day arrived. The lovely people in the yurt told me that there were 150 children attending – a bit of a shock, as I was expecting about 50. I was miked up, and I met my wonderful Chair from the Scottish Booktrust, who put me right at ease. 

We were off! 

After that first moment of blinking into the lights, I forgot my nerves. They were a lovely audience (some of them even knew the latin name for wolf!) and it was all great fun. The quiz was just the right side of chaos. But I couldn’t resist bragging about the free cake in the yurt. 

So not a surprise when I bumped into one young member of the audience in there later... 

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

The Delicate Art of Book Recommendation - Lucy Coats

Tricky things, book recommendations.  I get asked for them a lot.  Mostly, it's people wanting something for their child to read, and that's fine, I can throw out a few excellent titles (old or new) at the drop of a hat for almost any age.  I've even put a starter library together for a young godchild, which I'm adding to as the years go by.  I try to keep up with the children's book industry - after all it is my job to know what's current, what's hot, what's good (not necessarily the same thing).

But what about when adults ask me for recommendations for them?  If they're friends, I generally know what their tastes are, so you'd think it would be easy.  But it isn't.  I've had enough spectacular failures with friends to know that.  "Oh! You didn't like it? I'm so sorry!" I say, in that very British way of apologising for something that isn't really my fault.  Tastes differ, as every author knows who has got a five star review on Amazon next to a one star. I'm quite wary about recommending titles to complete strangers at parties or on trains or planes (yes, I've been asked for bookish recommendations on both of those), although a chance to conduct a discreet interrogation on what people have enjoyed before is always a fun way to pass the time.

But what about me?  How do I find good adult books to read, ones which I might otherwise have missed? Well, there's the Twitterati route.  If there's a continuing buzz from the book bloggers around something I haven't heard of, I'll always take a look, and sometimes buy.  That happened with Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and Erin Morgernstern's The Night Circus, both of which I found via Twitter and loved.  I also follow Amanda Craig's reviews very closely, as I know that she and I share similar tastes in fantasy. The other source of good recommendations for me is fellow children's book authors.  If they write kids' or YA books I like, I generally find that they'll read adult stuff I like too, even if it's something I had previously been resistant to.

Take the genre of science fiction, forinstance. I've always been pretty resistant to the majority of that (apart from a couple of titles) - which is strange for someone who loves fantasy so much.  They aren't that far apart in the realms of the imagination, but the idea of spaceships and machines and all that technology has never really appealed to me.  But then Kath Langrish, (author of the brilliant West of the Moon trilogy), suggested I read someone called Kage Baker.  Well, but...Kage Baker writes science fiction.  "You don't like science fiction," said one little voice in my head. "But you do trust Kath," said another.  To cut a long story short, I tried Kage Baker.  It was a lesson to me not to judge and dismiss a whole genre just because it is labelled a certain way, and I have certain preconceptions about it.  I enjoyed Kage's series of Company Novels more than anything I've read in a long time.  They're witty, complicated, intricate books of charm and complexity which made me laugh, think and cry (sometimes all at the same time).  They mix historical past, familiar present and scarily techo futures in a way that woke up my brain and set it dancing in whole new rhythms.   Because of that one recommendation from Kath (for books I'd never have considered otherwise), I think I might have to look at more science fiction now - as if my reading pile wasn't high enough already.  What next? Can anyone conquer my really truly visceral hatred of the adult horror novel? All recommendations welcome!

Lucy Coats's Greek Beasts and Heroes series is out now from Orion, and her new picture book, Bear's Best Friend, is coming from Bloomsbury in March 2013.
Lucy also blogs at Scribble City Central, where she is currently running the Fantabulous Fridays A-Z, a series of specially commissioned pieces from different childrens' and YA authors on mythical beasts and beings from all cultures.
Lucy's own website is here

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

A Death in the Library - John Dougherty

Once, the first thing you saw as you came through the door would be a large semicircular counter behind which librarians would stand, dealing with customers or ready to help while others buzzed about busily from shelf to customer to desk. Before long, you’d know them - librarians and library assistants: skilled; knowledgeable; professional - by sight, at least, and they would recognise you, and exchange a pleasant word.

The bookshelves were tall enough that you’d have to reach up to the top shelf, and they filled up the library and were packed with books, so tightly you’d need both hands to squeeze browsed unchoices back into their places; and every time you came, there would be new treasures hidden on those shelves - here a book you’d been longing to read; there another you didn’t know you were looking for until you found it.

The children’s section, too, was bursting with the new and the old. Brightly coloured cushions in animal shapes invited you in and made you welcome.

There was life there. Then the council made its plans.

“We’re improving things,” they said, as they ripped out the counter, leaving fade-marks on the carpet, and stuck up racks of battered DVDs: films you’d seen already, or didn’t want to.

 “We’re improving things,” they said, as they sent out redundancy notices, and hid the few remaining staff - or the volunteers who replaced them, or the temps brought in for the day from other branches - behind a small table round the corner.

“We’re improving things,” they said, as they tore out the tall shelves and wheeled in small ones, four-tiered trolleys which still seemed suddenly too roomy for the few books that remained.

“We’re improving things,” they said, as they inserted automatic tellers which check out your choices but never see your face or learn your name.

“We’re improving things,” they said, as they hollowed out our libraries and left them to rot from the inside.
Now, the first thing to meet your eye is the trolley of old stock for sale. You can visit, browse, borrow without a single human encounter; when someone deals with you, it may be someone you have never seen before, and never will again. The gaps in the shelves gape like those in uncared-for mouths with diseased gums, and the forward-facing books do nothing to hide the decay. The brightly-coloured cushions have faded and sagged out of shape, and will not be replaced.

And one day, they will tell you that no-one uses libraries any more; and they will not ask themselves why that might be; and they will close and lock the doors forever.

Remember this, when they tell you they are investing in the community, and in the future.

Remember this, when they talk of their commitment to education; to driving up standards; to literacy and reading levels.

Remember this, when they stand on your doorstep, smiling and asking for your vote.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Hayling Island, D-Day and the COPP by Miriam Halahmy

Oyster beds now bird reserves on Hayling

History is one of my passions and setting three novels on Hayling Island, opposite the Isle of Wight, gave me chance to explore the Island’s history which goes right back to prehistoric times. Hayling has been famous for its salt beds – they think that’s why the Romans came – and its oyster beds, now transformed into amazing bird reserves.

But Hayling also has a very proud history during WWII. Five little ships left Hayling in May 1940 to rescue the army stranded in Dunkirk and I tell part of that story in my first Hayling novel, Hidden. I had the opportunity to go onto one of these little ships, the Count Dracula, which was an amazing experience.

 The Island had a long line of defensive pill boxes, some of which are still standing today.

Part of the Mulberry Harbour was built in the waters around Hayling. This was the artificial harbour which was towed over the Channel after D-Day in 1944 and put together off the coast of Normandy like a huge jigsaw puzzle. It was capable of moving 7000 tons of vehicles and goods a day. There are still a couple of bits offshore in the sea near the ferry end of the Island.

But perhaps the biggest role that Hayling Island played in WWII was the setting up of  the COPP : Combined Operations Pilotage Parties.  Their job was to cross secretly to Normandy and survey the beaches under the noses of the enemy in the months before D-Day. I was very pleased to find out that  the COPP was set up at the Hayling Island Sailing Club at Sandy Point, two minutes from where my family lived for 25 years.

The story of the COPP has been told in the ‘Discover Hayling’s Heroes’ booklet.

This was a group of less than 200 men who would be responsible ultimately for saving the lives of thousands of servicemen through their extraordinary bravery. Their job was to reconnoitre the Normandy beaches prior to D-Day to ensure the success of the landings. Little is know about the work of these men and their role in helping to end the war.

Setting off from the Hayling beach one moonless night, December 31st, because as Churchill rightly pointed out, the Germans would be too busy celebrating New Year to notice anyone on the beaches, the men had to change into huge rubber suits, weighed down with equipment, go ashore,  take samples and measurements and get away without being spotted. This was only one of countless nerve wracking expeditions carried out by COPP. But as one man, Jim Booth, said, “When you’re a young man and part of a good team of like-minded extroverts, you just think it’s all an exciting adventure, and you never imagine you might not survive.”

A memorial to the COPP is currently under construction on Hayling beach, on the south coast facing France.

Wherever you walk on Hayling there are reminders of the role this little Island played in WWII, with abandoned supply stores, anti-tank barriers and memorial plaques to those who lived and died here.

My Hayling cycle is complete. The third novel, Stuffed, comes out next March. But although I am halfway through a completely new novel, not set on the Island, I still love coming down here to write and walk on the beaches and refresh my London lungs. If you haven’t been yet – do give it a try one day.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

The August Challenge: N M Browne

 Although I have been writing for years, I am not very good at working consistently, or indeed at all. I can always find something else I'd rather do.
The internet is a disaster - I used to spend hours on RASFC - a usenet forum frequented by some very interesting writers which taught me a great deal: I could justify that because I did indeed learn a great deal and lost hours to vaguely literary chat or 'cat vacuuming'. Then I moved on for a while to 'Absolute write water cooler', which was less enlightening, but still distracting. I missed my old friends from RASFC who had migrated to 'livejournal' or 'facebook' so obviously I spent time there too. It is after all important to keep up with friends, not just because friendship is worth while in itself but because its helpful for writing - conversations are inspirational, revelatory, informative  and so  I am  also available for dog walks, coffee, lunch, afternoon tea and early evening drinks ( especially early evening drinks.)  I have even been known to resort to housework or shopping (always for tedious things that I can justify as being entirely necessary) to avoid the  business of constructing sentences.
 I only ever produce books by tricking myself into work. I have used the alarm clock thingy on my computer to force myself to write for fifty minutes without distraction. When that doesn't work I bribe myself with coffee, chocolate, wine and I set myself public challenges like producing a certain number of words a day.
 I didn't have a very productive 2011 and 2012 has been worse so I set myself the task of writing the first draft of a chick lit novel in August.Why? I can hear you ask and it is a good question. It is mainly because I've never written one before and I don't usually do very much in August. Anyway, I am a couple of days behind schedule as I've taken a few days off, but I am at 40,000 words in and hoping to knock the rest on the head before September. It isn't very good ( what a surprise) but actually I don't care - you can't edit air and sometimes you just have to get those words on the page. I'll let you know how it works out.

Friday, 17 August 2012

KAT - an exciting new project by Karen King

A writer's life can be a lonely one so I really enjoy it when I do school visits or work with other writers. Which is why I'm so excited about a new project I'm planning with my author friend and fellow ABBA blogger, Ann Evans. We both love to inspire children and adults to write so we're getting together to run workshops together both in and out of school. We've come up the with name KAT - short for Kids and Authors together - for our theme based creative writing workshops for children. Coincidentally, the initials could also stand for Karen and Ann together!

My illustrator daughter, Naomi, designed us this logo.

And our workshops for adults are called Write Now! because our aim is to get people writing. Again, Naomi designed the logo:

We've got our very first workshop planned on 1 September at 10 am, Tysalls Photography Studio, Nuneaton, which Ann shares with photographer Rob Tysall. We're really looking forward to it and hope this will be the start of a great working partnership. Wish us luck! And if you've any tips for running workshops that worked for you, we'd be delighted to hear them.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

It's August, it's Edinburgh, It's the bookfest!

Despite the almost continuous rain earlier in the summer last Saturday when the Edinburgh International Book Festival 2012 opened its doors  the sun shone and it was glorious.  People were sitting all around the lovely square in Charlotte Gardens chatting reading books,eating ice cream, enjoying the atmosphere and people watching - trying to spot their favourite author.

On the walkways there was a buzz as people rushed to join the queue for an event or strolled by to browse in the bookshops or cafes.

It is my favourite time of the year.  A chance to catch up with lots of friends, writers from all parts of the country, to meet new people and to go to listen, laugh and be fascinated by the skill and imagination of the speakers.

In the famous authors' yurt, (green room) the great and the good,  famous, not so famous and the first time authors gather before or after events. As the festival lasts for over two weeks and has something like 800 authors from all over the world, there are always new people to meet.  This year sees the festival holding the 2012-2013 Edinburgh World Writers Conference, with special events looking at the role of literature around the world today.

On Saturday I caught up with other authors many of them SASsies - Nicola Morgan, Cathy MacPhail, Eleanor Updale, Elizabeth Laird, Julia Donaldson and Moira Munro, Keith Charters and crime writer Alex Gray.  it is a place for families and  I also met the Bookwitch and her daughter, and Mary and Gerry (the Mole) from Ourbookreviews and their lovely daughter.

I went into listen to the brothers Scarrow, Simon and Alex, both highly successful authors who decided that they might share some characters!  So Alex was able to bring two of his brother's well loved Roman characters into his own book set in Rome.
The event was great fun with teams of three chosen from the young audience brought up to compete in a history quiz.  Lots of fun and cheering ensued.

Monday the sun was still shining and I met up with Barry Hutchison and I went into the event on his new book the 13th Horseman, which made me realise just how much fun you can have with your characters!

 Barry, along with Sally Gardner and Steven Butler were understandably nervous about an event called Story Consequences.  Vivian French was the excellent chair person (and had control of the bell!) in an event where the three other writers were invited to start a story (character, place and emotion suggested by the audience) and keep it going for 30 seconds until the bell rang signalling that they had to pass it on to the next person, and so on.
Despite their reservations it was a riotous success and by the end of the event three very different, if slightly strange, stories had come to life.  The audience got behind the authors cheering them on, and everyone had a great time.
It occurred to me that this might be an interesting challenge to try in the future, for writers, aspiring writers and in creative writing sessions with young people, too.

Story Consequences event

This week also saw the Society of Authors in Scotland (SOAiS) AGM and lunch when we welcomed some new committee members Cathy MacPhail, Gillian Philip and Michael Malone and our new Scottish (SOAiS) chair  Lin Anderson.  It was also a pleasure get the chance to chat to the new Chair of the Society of Authors who had travelled up from London - Lindsey Davis.

I had a lovely surprise when dropping in to the yurt to find Keren David there, who introduced me to Amy Plum, a YA author who is American  living in Paris and will be speaking at the book festival  next week.

I will be appearing in the book festival this Sunday when I will be reading as part of the Amnesty International Imprisoned Writers Series on Freedom of Speech when  I read  Nasrin Sotoudeh.'s poignant letter to her daughter. 

On Friday 24th I am looking forward to delivering my workshop 'So you want to write for Children?'.

On the following Tuesday, after the main bookfest closes there is the School Gala Day when Charlotte Square is closed to the general public and bus loads of school children fill the square to attend events with their favourite authors.

Sally J Collins
 I will be there with Sally J. Collins the illustrator of the Hamish McHaggis books and we will be joined by Hamish himself as we tell the story of the Great Glasgow Treasure Hunt

I love the opportunity to go and listen to all sorts of writers talking with passion about the books they have written and living close enough to Edinburgh I enjoy dipping in and out of the festival to see a wide range of events.

A couple I am particularly looking forward to are events with Jasper Fforde and Eoin Colfer.

So if you get the chance to come to Edinburgh in August come along to the book festival - go to some events and soak up the atmosphere.  And keep your eyes open, you never know who you might bump into. 


Linda Strachan is an award winning author of over 60 books for children of all ages from picture books to teenage novels and a  writing handbook  Writing for Children