Showing posts with label Lynn Huggins-Cooper. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lynn Huggins-Cooper. Show all posts

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Remembering Dad by Lynn Huggins - Cooper

My Dad died on Boxing Day; my first grandson is due to be born in June. As you can imagine, moving up a generation like this, all of a sudden, has caused a welter of emotions. As I sat in front of a blank computer screen, trying to write a eulogy for my Dad, I realised the common theme streaking like a silver thread through my memories of Dad was books. He was an avid reader, and a prolific writer.
When I was very small, he made up stories for me and my sister. He used to come home, still in his fire brigade uniform, smelling of smoke (health and safety rules being somewhat relaxed forty years ago) and tell us outrageous tales of giants with broken noses who had been abused by horrid, thieving boys. He revelled in stories of dragons (complete with rasping voices) and effete-sounding monsters.
As we got older, he’d read books with us, finding new favourites as well as sharing stories from his own childhood. Every Saturday, he took us into the street market in Brighton. We’d buy deliciously scary American import comics with lurid titles: ‘Astounding Stories’ and ‘Tales from the Crypt’ being particular favourites. Armed with those and a huge bag of sherbet chews, we were nearly set for the day. On the way home, there was one more stop to make: Lanes Bookshop – a second hand emporium of delights. Mr. Lane himself was a dour man in general, but he patiently discussed with a little girl the merits of various books as I weighed them one against the other, trying to stretch my pocket money as far as it would go. He even put books by when the decision was too agonising. I still have copies of most of Ray Bradbury’s work with ‘8p’ written inside in Mr. Lanes neat lettering. The shop is long gone, as is Mr. Lane, and now sadly, my Dad. But the memories of those days come back to me in a heady rush as I open a second hand, yellowed treasure and breath in that spicy-musty smell.
It was experiences like those storytelling sessions and glorious Saturdays of my childhood that made me a writer. If the adults around a child have their noses pressed in books, the small child copies them. Nobody ever had to tell us to read; in fact, they had to tell us to stop. It was the same with writing. Dad called writing my ‘real job’ long before it paid enough to become my day job. He made me believe that what I did was valid and his absolute belief in me was worth more than I can ever say.
My father’s study lays empty, but I can still find him there in the pages of the books he read and we enjoyed together. He’s there in the pages of the local history he wrote for QueensPark Books, and for various websites. He’s there when I write. Who did I call first when I signed each new contract? Dad. There’s a shelf in his study that he added each new book of mine to as it was published.
Now I have a grandson on the way. I’m sorry he’ll never meet his great granddad in person. But he will know him. After all, I know where to look.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

How books shape people by Lynn Huggins - cooper

In the last few days, I have been Samhuinn - cleaning the house. It's like spring cleaning, but more thorough (Samhuinn is new year for pagans). That means I spent a *whole* day cleaning the dining room, and a *whole* day cleaning the living room. I have ten more rooms to clean so as they say, I may be some time...anyway, as a part of this effort I have been de-cluttering. My eldest daughter is nearly 20 and has decided to train as a primary teacher despite me (an old lag) telling her 'How Things Have Changed' through sucked teeth, on a regular basis...

My house is clogged with books. A feng shui expert would have a field day. So I asked my daughter if she would like all of the foundation stage and KS1 materials I still have (I home-edded my youngest - another story) and she said yes - so I have been piling up boxes of books - including picture books. I spent a gloriously happy and tearful day today sorting picture books. I saw my childrens' lives flash before my eyes. Favourite books - the hungry caterpillar (my son, now 22 with his own mortgage and business, could tell the story along with me at 18 months (and would startle waiters by asking in a lispy voice for ' a slice of swiss cheese' in restaurants) 'Maurice's Mum' by Roger Smith prepared them for a batty, witchy mum, 'The Big Big Sea' by Martin Waddell was my nearly -20-year-old daughter's favourite because the illustrations looked like her and I on our favourite beach...'The Tough Princess', 'Tarzanna' and 'Dulcie Dando: Football Player' prepared my girls to be everything they wanted to be (daughter number 1 is an FA football coach)...'Giant' and 'Dear Greenpeace'helped them to be green...the Dr. Xarges series helped them to develop an off-beat sense of humour...'Hello Sailor' by Ingrid Godon was a gift for children with a gay aunt and a gay uncle...'Elmer' helped them to learn about celebrating difference...Valerie Flournoy's 'The Patchwork Quilt' taught them about the value of their own history..all I hope is that one day, I write a book that helps to 'speak' to children and enables them to find a hook on which to hang their picture of who they are. Books have been *so* important in our house. I hope that one day I shall write a book that is important too.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

My Writing Life - By Lynn Huggins-Cooper

I love my writing life. Friends say to me they don’t know how I can bear it. They think I must get lonely. A house in the middle of a field, staying home all day in my study, scribbling away...but I love it. It’s not that I don’t like people – I just like silence. When I enter the internal world of my current story, I don’t take kindly to interruptions. Other writers recognise this. Of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t manage to find a million-and-one other things to do instead of write when I am in procrastination mode. Filling the bird table becomes imperative. Jam making eats up a whole day with its sumptuous smells and sticky surfaces. Then there’s my craft room calling to me, because I have that new silver clay to work with...and all that’s as well as the usual smallholder tasks of animal husbandry, DIY and digging. Oh yes, and the family to be taken care of.

I do see friends, but they are (fortunately) used to me disappearing for weeks on end when I have a work in progress. That’s where my virtual friends kick in! Now, I don’t mean I am addicted to The Sims or Petz – I mean the people I am connected to on the Net. I belong to several online writing groups, and they are a mine of information and advice. They listen when I cheer and when I moan, and support me when I’m feeling flat. I do reciprocate, of course! Now, without my virtual friends, I would be lost. They are writers too, and they understand the things I feel. They are unerringly generous with help and advice and keep me going when things are tough and the editors bite. About a week ago, I took the plunge and went to a lunch with some of my online friends (some on this very blog!) and had a wonderful time! This could get addictive...

Now, it’s not just lunch that pries me out of the house. By a strange quirk of fate and the vagaries of the publishing world, I have three new books coming out in the next couple of months. That means a couple of parties, lots of events in schools and libraries, at an appearance at the wonderful Northern Children’s Book Festival ( It’s like a totally different life. For a few weeks there are interviews and events and I have to smile a lot and actually dress in nice clothes (most of my wardrobe is muddy and covered in ahem, varying types of manure). Here’s a weird frenzy and then it all goes quiet again and I’m alone in the study. The two different facets of my writing life complement each other – and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Monday, 1 September 2008

A horror story, by Lynn Huggins - Cooper

As writers, we all no doubt find that our 'real lives' leach into our writing. If that is the case, expect a story from me soon about a horse needing daily will be a horror story, because I'm scared of horses at the best of times, and once you get to the 'stick the stabby thing in the big kicky thing' scenario, I'm in a cold sweat. Tonight (day three) ended with me taking four attempts as the poor horse bucked and kicked. Once I had successfully injected the horse, I promptly vomited in a handy hedgerow - only to have to gear myself up to do it all over again tomorrow. A horror story indeed.

Actually, I'm not kidding about it ending up in a story. I find so many fragments of my life end up in my writing that sometimes it's all a bit embarrassing when I read it back to myself. Take the novel I am writing for adults. It's about the diet industry. For those who don't know me, I'm fairly well-upholstered. Cuddly, even. As such, I have read all manner of ridiculous books about dieting and weight loss. Tried lots of them too. The only thing that has worked is eating less and doing more. It's not rocket science. But that doesn't stop me, like so many other people, wishing that their was a magic pill to fix things. I've taken all that angst and poured the feelings into my book. Hopefully, it is working.

The problem though is when you write about something that hasn't happened to you...and people read about it and look at you sideways. I've written about everything from World War One to infidelity. Of course, I've also written about vampires and ghost hunters. It doesn't mean I have pointy teeth or a penchant for EMF detectors. To be honest, though, I think i'll leave it to my readers to decide for themselves what parts of my books hold fragments of my life and which are inventions.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

My Secret Life - Lynn Huggins - Cooper

I have a secret life. There – it’s out. Now, I don’t mean I am actually a man (although if you have ever arm wrestled with me you may question that); I don’t mean that I am a closet libertine or a have a covert taste for leather and chains. But I do have another life, outside my usual description as ‘prolific writer of books for children’ (I think they mean ‘Her again? Ho hum...’): I write books for adults.
I have had several non-fiction ‘self-help’ books published including subjects as diverse as self-sufficiency and organic living, pregnancy and parenting teenagers. I enjoyed writing them; they were quite lucrative. The weird thing is, many people seem to think these books are somehow worthier or more valid than my writing for children. Mind you, these people are the type who sidle up to you at drinks parties and say either a. (in jokey voice) ‘Are you that JK Rowling, then?’ Or b. ‘I’ve always wanted to write a book...’ Personally, I get the urge to stab them with a cocktail stick at that point.
Guess what? It’s much easier to write for adults. You don’t have to worry about word levels, or references to rude things, and it’s a good job – my new organics book includes a section on phthalate-free erotic toys. That was great fun to research! I love writing for adults; I am currently writing (slowly) an adult horror story. But I love writing for kids more. I think writing for children is more challenging than any other writing I have done, including my forays into journalism. I suppose the reason for that can be found in my farts, bogies and poo blog earlier – my inner child has a very big gob and shouts incessantly about the stories I should write. I’d better go - think I hear her calling...and she’s a bad tempered beast if I don’t just give in and write.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Research - why bother? Lynn Huggins - Cooper

Many of my stories are set in the past. One Boy’s War (Frances Lincoln, 2008) and Walking with Witches (Tyne Bridge Publishing, 2008) have both entailed hundreds of hours of deeply satisfying research.
With the former book, set during WW1, this included trawling through original journals, war records and secondary sources of historical records. I also visited Belgium and France to trace the steps of the boy soldier and see his resting place in a small war cemetery on farmland. With the latter, set in the 1650s, I spent weeks reading contemporary accounts of life in Newcastle as well as harrowing accounts of witch trials and executions. I found that library staff and local historians alike were generous in the extreme when they knew what I was looking for; they were keen to see the stories come to fruition. But is all this research really necessary? The books are only made up, right? Wrong actually. The stories may be fiction, but the settings – and many of the characters – were real people. I feel I would be doing them (and myself) a disservice to neglect my research, as it is the facts we bring to our stories that help to give them the ring of truth. Some of my favourite books are historic fiction, and I have learned a great deal from them in both terms of history and storytelling. If a reader is reading a story set in the past, and the facts underpinning the story are inaccurate, the world constructed by the author crumbles and the reader is yanked out of the story.
Readers offer us a great compliment when they choose to read our books and enter our worlds. They will suspend their disbelief only for as long as our stories captivate them. Methodical research helps to create a multi-faceted, believable story – and it’s fun! I even surround myself with objects that relate to my chosen time period to help me. For Walking with Witches, I have a fragment of a Seventeenth Century signet ring, for example – and somehow, holding this helps me to connect with my story. I’ve read a lot of manuscripts and books about the period, and the treatment of witches – or those accused of being witches. I’ve enjoyed it so much, and it’s given me so many ideas, I think I feel another book coming on...

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Bogies, Farts and Poo! by Lynn Huggins - Cooper

I really look quite refined, to the casual observer. I have a lovely home in the country; I wear Barbours and have been known to attend WI meetings and enthuse about jam and crochet. But how do I make a living? Well, I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time writing about bogies, farts and poo! I'd like to say I only discovered a penchant for poop when I started writing as 'B. Strange' in the Too Ghoul for School' series - it would be a good cover story, as I was asked to write about terrors in a toilet. But I soon found I was waaay too into it; I had stories about Dump Demons suffocating children with stinking gas and ghoulish goings-on in the toilets that according to my characters saved anyone from suffering from constipation...sigh. I have to accept it. I might look and sound like Margot Leadbetter on the outside, but I am worked from the inside, like a darlek, by a tiny monster. Mine is, I think, a scatological 10 year old.

But you know, I don't think the 10 year old lives alone in there. I'm currently writing Walking with Witches, a supernatural story about young teens, and the heroine of that story lives inside me too. She's a little more sophisticated than the farty 10 year old, but she still likes a joke. Then there's my older teenage protagonist who is currently wrestling with her sense of self...she's in there too. The point is, they are all me. If I didn't still keenly remember the person I was then, I couldn't write for children and young people now. So if you want to write stories for children, spend some time with the child inside. Mine's in there, alive and well - and lurking with a whoopee cushion and fart powder - you have been warned!