making other magazines feel inadequate since 2009
JK Rowling Exclusive Interview in which she shares her thoughts on writing and motherhood, genre versus literary fiction, guilty pleasures, the Orange Prize, real and fictional heroines, e-books, and the state of her desk
60 Seconds with Judy Blume and Joseph O’Connor An Agent’s View Need an agent? We’ve got two! Andrew Lownie and Julia Churchill join us to discuss what to do, what not to do, what the market’s doing ...
Creative Writing with Sarah Bower Coverage of
The London Book Fair Viral Aftermath with
BigAl’s Books and Pals Imagination Unconfined Elspeth Cooper on writing fantasy June | July 2011
Photography JP Masclet
Scrivener 2 for Mac OS X
Scrivener is an award-winning word processor and project management tool created specifically for writers of long texts such as novels and research papers. It won’t try to tell you how to write - it just makes all the tools you have scattered around your desk available in one application. Scrivener provides powerful utilities for getting your words onto the page and finding the structure that suits the needs of your project. Outline and organise, take notes, view research as you write; dynamically combine multiple scenes into a single text just to see how they fit. Scrivener has already been enthusiastically adopted by best-selling novelists and novices alike - whatever you write, grow your ideas in style.
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Normally £35.00 (including VAT) 20% discount coupon code: ‘WORDSWITHJAM’ Free 30 day trial available for download
Scrivener for Windows beta available
http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php 2 | Random Stuff
Contents Random stuff 4
Tea and Cake with JK Rowling - an exclusive interview with the author of Harry Potter, in which she shares her thoughts on writing and motherhood, genre versus literary fiction, guilty pleasures, the Orange Prize, real and fictional heroines, e-books, and the state of her desk
10 Imagination Unconfined - Elspeth Cooper on fantasy writing 12 Viral Aftermath - BigAl talks about his blog and what happened after he reviewed The Greek Seaman 13 Andrew Ramsay on the Comic Book Oscars 14 Zimmerframe Blues - procrastinating with Perry Iles 16 Lit-Thick by Danny Gillan - probably best not to read this if you call yourself a writer of literary fiction 17 Painfully obvious he had crossed the line by Matt Shaw 18 60 Second Interviews with Judy Blume and Joseph O’Connor 20 What Judy Means To Me 20 How I Didn’t Get a Book Deal by Lorraine Mace 22 Not the Oxford Literary Festival by Dan Holloway and Catriona Troth 24 Gillian Hamer’s Book v Film - Where the Wild Things Are 25 Strap Lines and Strap Marks - publishing your ebook by Derek Duggan 39 Dear Ed - Letters of the satirical variety 26 Lone Author at the London Book Fair - Catriona Troth covers one of the world’s biggest book events 29 Nurturing the Readers (and Writers) of Tomorrow by Catriona Troth 32 Sending Books Via Pelican Post 33 The Rumour Mill - sorting the bags of truth from the bags of shite 54 Crossword 55 Horoscopes - by Shameless Charlatan Druid Keith
Quite Small Stories 34 The Quiet Coach - a quite small story by Stephanie Barton
Competitions 36 Comp Corner - winners of two signed copies of Guy Saville’s Afrika Reich, corralled by Danny Gillan 37 Are You Having a Laugh? Words with JAM’s comedy scene competition information 39 First Page Competition Winner Announcement 42 Flash 500 First Quarter 2011 Winner
Pencilbox 44 The Agent’s View with Andrew Lownie and Julia Churchill 46 Beginnings with Sarah Bower - the first of ten creative writing exercises 47 Writing Children’s Fiction - not for the faint hearted by Anne Stormont 48 You Have Two Minutes Starting Now - how to choose a passage for your reading, by Dan Holloway 49 Question Corner - Lorraine Mace answers your questions on writing 50 What We Think of Some Books
The Team Sarah Bower is the author of two historical novels, THE NEEDLE IN THE BLOOD and THE BOOK OF LOVE (published as SINS OF THE HOUSE OF BORGIA in the US). She has also published short stories in QWF, The Yellow Room, and Spiked among others. She has a creative writing MA from the University of East Anglia where she now teaches. She also teaches creative writing for the Open University. Sarah was born in Yorkshire and now lives in Suffolk. Derek Duggan is a graduate of The Samuel Beckett Centre for Theatre Studies at Trinity College Dublin. He lives in Spain with his wife and children and is not a tobogganist. Danny Gillan’s award-winning Will You Love Me Tomorrow was described as one of the best debut novels of 2008. Now, for entirely cash related reasons, Danny’s novel Scratch is available for Kindle readers (‘users’ sounds a bit druggy). It’s so funny it’s made people accidentally wee, apparently. Really, actually wee in their pants. True story..www.dannygillan.co.uk Gillian Hamer is a full time company director and part time novelist. She divides her time between the industrial Midlands and the wilds of Anglesey, where she spends far too much time dreaming about becoming the next Agatha Christie. Dan Holloway is a founder member of the Year Zero Writer’s collective (www.yearzerowriters.wordpress.com), and organiser of the Free-e-day festival (www.freeeday.wordpress. com). Perry Iles is an old man from Scotland. If he was a dwarf, he’d be grumpy. He lives in a state of semi-permanent apoplectic biliousness, and hates children, puppies, kittens, and periods of unseemly emotion such as Christmas. He pours out vinegary invective via a small writing machine, and thinks it’s a bit like throwing liver at the wall. He tells anyone who’ll listen that this gives him a modicum of gratification. Andrew Lownie is a member of the Association of Authors’ Agents and Society of Authors and was until recently the literary agent to the international writers’ organisation PEN. In 1998 he founded The Biographers Club, a monthly dining society for biographers and those involved in promoting biography, and The Biographers’ Club Prize which supports first-time biographers. Lorraine Mace is a columnist with Writing Magazine and co-author, with Maureen Vincent-Northam, of The Writer’s ABC Checklist, has had her work published in five countries. Winner of the Petra Kenney International Poetry Award (comic verse category), she writes fiction for the women’s magazine market and is a writing competition judge. www.lorrainemace. com JJ Marsh - writer, teacher, newt. www.jjmarsh.wordpress.com Matt Shaw - author, cartoonist, photographer, hermit, Billy-NoMates. www.mattshawpublications.co.uk Anne Stormont - as well as being a writer, is a wife, mother and teacher. She is also a hopeless romantic, who likes happy endings. Kat Troth grew up in two countries, uses two names, and has had two different careers. One career she has spent writing technical reports for a non-technical audience. In the other, she attempts to write fiction. She tries always to remember who she is at any one time, but usually finds she has at least two opinions about everything.
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JD Smith lives and works in the English Lake District. She uses her publishing house Quinn Publications as a source of procrastination to avoid actually writing.
So much has happened since April in our world. We’re writers; we care about books and writing and having a laugh. So that’s why we’ve stretched ourselves once more and gone that extra mile for you lucky buggers. Even we thought we’d pushed the boat out into the middle of Windermere when we secured an exclusive interview with JK Rowling (you did look at the cover before you reached this page, right?). But it was not to be. It seems we were only tickling the shores, paddling a bit, and getting all excited. This issue we’re delighted to not only have JK Rowling as our gorgeous cover girl, but Judy Blume and Joseph O’Connor in our 60 Second slots, too. And it’s not just the authors on which we’ve gone large, as two of the biggest agents in the industry, Andrew Lownie and Julia Churchill, give us tips on what’s hot and what’s not in a new ‘Agent’s Eye View’ slot. Then to really make you sick on the deliciousness that is WWJ, there’s the first of a series of creative writing exercises with Sarah Bower, and an exclusive from BigAl on the drama of his blog.
Your Letters Dear Editor
Just a note to say how much I enjoyed reading Guy Saville’s article ‘Rewriting History’ in February’s issue. I’m a huge fan of Robert Harris and loved his novel, Fatherland, so I have a real interest in any new author that attempts the tricky world of alternative history. It was interesting to get an insider’s view of how hard it is to write about a make-believe world while still keeping as close as possible to the truth and documented fact. I take my hat off to Guy and the amount of research involved and I’ve now ordered his book for myself. The Afrika Reich sounds a brilliant read and a very clever plot. I think it’s great that you promote new talent - I look forward to the magazine each time. It’s as much a good laugh as it is informative! Keep up the good work. Megan Wolf - Bangor, North Wales. Dear Words-with-Jam People
If you haven’t already guessed by the contents, we’ve decided to get theming. This issue is Children’s/YA Fiction, with insightful views and reviews, articles and interviews covering everything from book versus film, experiences on submitting to the big boys, what kids like to read, to reviews by children themselves.
Could I just express my thanks to your World Book Night writers? To my shame, it was an event of which I was wholly unaware. Yet reading Sheila Bugler’s personal experience of being a giver in a London park, Catriona Troth’s impressions of listening to writers in Trafalgar Square and Jairo Rojas’s passion and pride in Gabriel Garcia Marquez made me feel that I too had been there.
Worry not! If Children’s/YA isn’t your thing, there’s plenty more of our usual shenanigans within the pages that follow.
Thank you for bringing the occasion to me. Angela Henderson - Lincoln
This issue is our first print edition. If you’re reading this in print, then you’re very lucky indeed. If not, don’t panic, our new crossword feature is available to download and print off from our website, so you needn’t miss out.
Loved the Kindle article in the last issue. (though I’d have called it To Kindle or Not to Kindle!). It’s great to see such a cross section of views from the positive to the negative (to the ditherers!) I smiled along as I read because I fell into both camps! I always vocally despised the idea of an e-book reader, unable to imagine not holding a real book, not closing that final page - until someone bought me one for Christmas. And then I almost immediately swung into the other camp and fell in love at first sight! Yeah, fickle me, I know. There are so many positives about owning a Kindle (travel being the prime one) that I won’t repeat them here - but I’ve decided that in my perfect world both books and my Kindle will live together happily ever after, side by side on my bookcase.
Many of you will flick through these pages searching desperately for the results of our First Page Competition, and you’ll not be disappointed. With literally hundreds of entries to judge, the winners are of an incredible standard and I’m sure you’ll feel as cheated as I did when you reach the end of those 400 or so words. Congratulations go to our cover girl of April, Amanda Hodgkinson, whose book 22 Britannia Road was launched at the end of April by Penguin Imprint Fig Tree. They’ve been good enough to supply us with 5 copies to give away in Comp Corner this issue. I probably haven’t covered everything I need to, but space is getting rather tight. Not only is this our first print edition, it’s also our tenth issue (yes, it really has been that long). I feel that’s worthy of celebration, so I’ll finish here by saying a huge thank you to: Lorraine for her continued wisdom and knowledge; Danny for all his editing, advice, and eventually forgiving me for the ‘bio incident’; Jill, for her determination and enthusiasm in organising so many wonderful authors and agents to appear within these pages; Kat, for her relentless research and launch of our wonderful podcast; Gilly for her all her brilliant articles and continuous support; Dan for sharing his vast knowledge of the world of literature; Anne for her insightful articles and reviews; Derek for making us all chortle; Perry for getting me my first complaint letter; and Michelle for proofreading every single issue and correcting (mostly my) mistakes. Finally, thank you to all those who’ve made guest appearances, who’ve joined us since we first began, who have submitted articles and stories, who recommended the magazine to their friends, family and peers. Thank you to the advertisers who enable the magazine to be free online. And thank you to everyone who reads it. Enjoy!
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Great article. Great mag! Nic Smith - Bicester I’ve just signed up for your e-zine and am currently chortling my way through back copies. Seriously, there are some amusing, yet informative, articles and I’m very happy to have stumbled across Words With Jam. I will spread the word! Best wishes Jackie Buxton
If you wish to write in, please email me at email@example.com. My favourite letter will receive a free print version of the issue.
Print Blogging Subscriptions Along Lots of people have asked us for a printed version of the magazine. And we said, why not? So from now on you can have your cake with jam and cream. The digital version will remain FREE, but you can also have a printed copy, available worldwide. Visit www.wordswithjam. co.uk/paperissuesubscription for more information.
Since April we’ve had a bit of a blog revamp, and invited some fabulous guest bloggers to feature alongside our usual postings. Recent blog posts include:
“In my experience, people are sometimes put off forums - also known as message boards - by the belief that they are too technical, unfriendly, or even elitist. And to be fair, some forums are not places for the faint-hearted, with certain individuals waiting to leap down the throat of any newcomer who strays outside the forum’s myriad rules.”
As of April 2011, Words with JAM is now available as a Kindle E-book. If you missed out on the last issue, visit Amazon now.
Up for Grabs
We’re doing our best to organise competition prizes - last issue was 2 signed copies of Guy Saville’s Afrika Reich, and this issue it’s 5 copies of Amanda Hodgkinson’s 22 Britannia Road. See page 36 for details.
How to Make the Most of Online Writing Forums by Nick Daws
The Large Middle, by Dan Holloway “Readers are still readers, so what is being read remains the same. Genre fiction will always have the biggest readership so long as we have the same readers. Maybe when reading migrates to phones the demographic will change. E-readers haven’t done that. So why would we expect the charts, genre-wise, to look different.”
Launching 22 Britannia Road by Catriona Troth ‘She [Amanda Hodgkinson] talks about how she had imagined her move to France. “I would be sitting on the terrace, sipping wine as the words flowed.” The reality was very different. “The house we bought had no floor, no kitchen. It had running water, but not always where you wanted it to run.” Instead of sipping wine on the terrace she was learning to lay floors and fit kitchens.’
Is that a Kindle in your pocket? by Susanne O’Leary M is FREE to Words with JA s. We provide an online subscriber n of interviews, original collectio ies, advice, ramblings, funn e views and mor competitions, re ly issue. each bi-month will be out early Our next issue August 2011. iries: For general enqu jam.co.uk ith w editor@words : For submissions k dswithjam.co.u or w @ ns io submiss
“I saw an e-book reader on display at the airport about three years ago. It was a Sony and I glanced at it without much thought but finding the print of the ‘pages’ quite alluring and the way they turned electronically intriguing. But I quickly turned away and walked past it into the bookshop. It was on my mind though. For a while.”
Latest Podcasts Aubergine A short story told by the author Helen Smith. Something very strange is happening to Claire. Could it be connected to her age? Or the fact that she’s a woman? Or is she experiencing more than a general feeling of malaise?
The Beast Next Door A short Story written by Susan Howe and read by Daniel Barzotti. Gerald knows what was happening to his neighbour, but is he the best person to help her? The Beast Next Door was selected as Story of the Month by Circalit in April 2011 and will shortly be published as an app by Ether Books.
Connected After a slightly longer than usual interval (sorry about that) Words with Jam is delighted to bring you Roland Denning’s dystopic tale, Connected. When CCTV and Reality Television merge together and multiple-choice has replaced freedom, how do we hang onto the last shards of ourselves? Not just a reading of short story, but a fully voiced audio-play, written and performed by Roland Denning. Other members of the cast: Anita: Lesley Davis Frank: Howard Lee Report Reader: Murray AndersonWallace
You can listen to episodes, download them or subscribe to the podcast either at http://wordswithjam.podomatic. com or on iTunes via http://itunes. apple.com/gb/podcast/words-withjam/id423101927 - and if you feel like giving us a review or a star rating while you’re there, that’s even better! If you would like to comment on any episode, or suggest ideas for the future, please contact us at editor@ wordswithjam.co.uk.
A long time ago, I promised that if I heard that any of the books I released into the wild with Bookcrossing had an exciting adventure, then I would let you know ... Visit www.blog.wordswithjam.co.uk
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Photography JP Masclet
Tea & Cake with JK Rowling
Need we say more?
Declaration of interest: I met Jo Rowling in 1991. Warm, witty and intelligent, she had a filthy sense of humour and a laugh like Sid James. She became one of my closest friends.Twenty years later, much has changed, but our friendship endures. I admire her enormously, not only as a writer, but as an astute, courageous and passionate person. She also makes bloody good cakes. JJMarsh
J K (Joanne Kathleen) Rowling was born in the summer of 1965 at Yate General Hospital in England and grew up in Chepstow, Gwent where she went to Wyedean Comprehensive.
What was your favourite childhood book, or books?
Jo left Chepstow for Exeter University, where she earned a French and Classics degree, and where her course included one year in Paris. As a postgraduate she moved to London to work at Amnesty International, doing research into human rights abuses in Francophone Africa. She started writing the Harry Potter series during a Manchester to London King’s Cross train journey, and during the next five years, outlined the plots for each book and began writing the first novel.
The Little White Horse, by Elizabeth Goudge. The tone is perfect; a seamless mix of the fairy-tale and the real. It also has a plain heroine, which delighted me beyond words as a child, because I was a very plain little girl and I hadn’t met many literary heroines who weren’t breathtakingly pretty. The opening paragraphs of The Little White Horse have stayed with me all my life. Goudge says that there are three kinds of people in this world: those who find consolation in food, those who find consolation in literature, and those who find consolation in personal adornment. I know I read Little Women when I was eight, because we moved house shortly afterwards, when I was nine. Naturally, I whole-heartedly identified with Jo March, she of the burning literary ambition and short temper. My mother had everything Georgette Heyer ever wrote, so I whipped through those, too, when I was a pre-teen, and I FINALLY found a plain heroine there, too (Phoebe, in ‘Sylvester’, who also – hooray! - happened to be a writer). Basically, I lived for books, and was sustained by literary characters with whom I could identify – I was your basic, common-or-garden bookworm, complete with freckles and National Health spectacles.
Writers always bemoan a lack of time. Amid family responsibilities, charity work and publicity demands, how do you carve out creative space? You have to be highly disciplined. In her stunning biography of Colette, Secrets of the Flesh, Judith Thurman wrote that mothering and writing ‘are, at times, conflicting vocations’ - very true. My children come before my work, but when I’m in the thick of a novel, writing comes before answering emails and letters, returning telephone calls, doing mundane jobs around the house – virtually everything. By this you may deduce that I’ve got exceptionally patient friends (as you well know) and an amazing, tolerant husband.
Ebooks – Nemesis or Genesis? Genesis. There’s no point trying to hold back
progress, but print will never die; there’s no substitute for the feel of an actual book. I adore physically turning pages, and being able to underline passages and not worrying about dropping them in the bath or running out of power. I also find print books objects of beauty, and I don’t speak as a precious, first-edition-mustn’t-crack-thespine-type collector, but as somebody who loves a shiny new paperback, and the smell of secondhand books. However, there are times when e-books are a Godsend. We forgot to pack my youngest a bedtime book when we were away last year, and I truly appreciated the magic of being able to download one in seconds! This summer will be the first time that I take away fifty e-books to read while we’re on holiday, rather than filling up my suitcase with print books.
Is there a book that changed your life? If so, how? Well, setting aside the obvious answer (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone) I’d have to go for Jessica Mitford’s Hons and Rebels. My great aunt thought that Jessica Mitford was a simply deplorable character (Mitford ran away from her upper class family to become a Communist and join the war against Franco in the 1930s), and I overheard her telling my mother all about her, when I was fourteen. I showed interest, so Auntie Ivy gave me an old copy of Mitford’s autobiography, glad, no doubt, to get it off her respectable bookshelves. It was a most dangerous book to give to a dissatisfied, left-leaning teenager; Jessica Mitford immediately became my heroine. I read everything she’d ever written and ended up naming my eldest daughter after her.
Would you describe your writing room and its points of interest? I share a study with my husband, so there are two computers back-to -back on an enormous partner’s desk, but I have the room to myself during the day. My side of the desk is a health hazard. Around me as I type this are: a long bit of dried-out orange peel, an empty plastic carton that held blueberries, half a bag of salted pretzels (two weeks old), an empty box that contained Optrex Eye Drops, a ton of reference books, a telephone buried out of sight under sundry bits of paper, a couple of old
Jo then moved to northern Portugal, where she taught English as a foreign language. She married in October 1992 and gave birth to her daughter Jessica in 1993. When her marriage ended, she returned to the UK to live in Edinburgh, where she trained as a teacher, and where Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Stone was eventually completed. In 1996 she received an offer of publication and the book was first published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books in June 1997, under the name JK Rowling. Jo married Dr. Neil Murray in 2001, and a brother for Jessica, David, was born in 2003. A second sister, Mackenzie, followed in January 2005. J K Rowling has received the following honours and awards: Order of the British Empire (OBE), 2001 • Prince of Asturias Award for Concord, Spain, 2003 • The Edinburgh Award, 2008 • Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur: France, 2009• Honorary Degrees from the University of Exeter, University of St Andrews, Napier University, University of Edinburgh, Dartmouth College, USA, Harvard University, USA, University of Aberdeen • Commencement speaker, Harvard University, USA, 2008 • James Joyce Award, University College Dublin, 2008 • Author
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of the Year, British Book Awards, 1999 • Booksellers Association Author of the Year, 1998 and 1999 • W H Smith Fiction Award, 2004 • Blue Peter Gold Badge, awarded 2007 • Outstanding Achievement Award, South Bank Show Awards, 2008 • Lifetime Achievement Award, British Book Awards 2008 J K Rowling supports a wide number of charities and causes. She set up the Volant Charitable Trust, which supports a wide number of causes related to social deprivation and associated problems, particularly as they affect women and children. The Trust has funded a variety of projects in the UK and abroad. It also supports research into the causes and treatment of Multiple Sclerosis. For seven years she was an Ambassador of One Parent Families, now called Gingerbread, a charity working with lone parents and their children. In 2007 she took an honorary position as President for the charity. Since 1999 J K Rowling has been a supporter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society Scotland, for nine of those years as its Patron. Having lost her mother to MS at the age of 45, this is one of the causes closest to Jo’s heart and her support has included planning and hosting fundraising events, directly lobbying politicians, writing articles and giving interviews to raise awareness of this very Scottish disease, and contributing significant funds for research in Scotland, including research establishments in Edinburgh and Aberdeen. She has recently stepped down as Patron of the charity but continues to fund MS research directly. In 2005 J K Rowling co-founded the Children’s High Level Group (CHLG) with Emma Nicholson MEP, inspired by a press report she read about children in caged beds in institutions in the Czech Republic. This charity aims to make life better for young people in care, in Eastern Europe and ultimately all over the world. In 2007 J K Rowling auctioned for CHLG a copy of one of the seven special editions of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, which raised £1.95 million. In December 2008 the book was widely published in aid of the charity and became the fastest-selling book of that year. In February 2010 the UK-based arm of the charity became Lumos. Jo has supported a wide range of other causes and charities, including Comic Relief, for which she has written two short books; The Maggie’s Centres for Cancer Care, of which she was a Patron for several years, and Medecins sans Frontieres, in aid of which she performed in an event with Stephen King and John Irving in New York in 2006.
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newspapers, a lot of pens (mostly defunct), a pair of broken sunglasses and a single earring. The rest of the room is pretty untidy, too, though not as bad as my side of the desk. I’d love to blame some of it on Neil, but it’s really me. I am much better at organizing ideas than stacks of paper. I should add that I can, and do, write all over my house, and many other places besides. I love writing in bed, and I’ve got a favourite chair in our sitting room, where I sometimes go with my laptop if I fancy a change of scene. My fondness for cafés is also well-known.
awards for children’s literature, which are very egalitarian). Clearly, there are two possible conclusions to be drawn from largely male shortlists and prize winners: either female writers aren’t as talented as their male counterparts, or the world of big literary prizes echoes the under-representation of women in other areas of society. I subscribe to the second view, so I would say that the Orange Prize does a useful job in giving the best female writers of the day the kind of exposure that they might not otherwise receive.
What cheers and/or depresses you about the world of publishing today?
Confess your guilty reading pleasure
I feel as though I am slightly out of the loop on this one, not having published for a few years. My agent says that it is a difficult time for an unknown to be published, but I still believe that if you’ve got the goods, you will triumph eventually.
Are there any books you re-read? Lots and lots. When I’m working, I find it incredibly difficult to read new books (although when I’m between my own novels, I devour other people’s). So if I’m writing, I re-read. I’ve re-read all of Jane Austen so often I can actually visualize the type on the page; I love Colette, Katherine Mansfield, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, E. F. Benson and P. G. Wodehouse, all of whom are always beside my bed. I read a lot of diaries and biographies, too; Chips Channon’s also a fixture on the bedside bookshelves, as is the aforementioned Secrets of the Flesh, and everything by Frances Donaldson is eminently re-readable.
Which word or phrase do you overuse – in writing or in life? I’m not proud to say that it’s probably swearwords in every day life. Writing the Harry Potter books, I got sick to death of the words ‘passage’, ‘corridor’ and all others relating to my heroes’ endless movement around Hogwarts castle.
A.S. Byatt ruffled feathers when she pronounced the Orange Prize sexist. Do you think women need a separate platform for recognition? Well, there’s no doubt that female writers have been under-represented when it comes to winning the big literary prizes (in contrast with
Whodunnits, especially of the Golden Age – Christie, Sayers, Allingham and Marsh. Although, if I’m honest, I don’t feel guilty about them. Reading trashy magazines makes me feel most ashamed of myself.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was published in 1997. Since then, how have you changed as a writer? I hope I’ve got better. I think I have.
The perennial literature debate flowered recently. How distinct is literary fction from genre fiction, in your view? There has always been an overlap. The late J. G. Ballard being the modern example that springs to mind; an outstanding writer who ‘transcended’ the science fiction genre. I am pretty indifferent to the distinction between ‘literary’ and ‘genre’ fiction myself, and I hop pretty freely between the two as a reader without feeling remotely as though I am ‘slumming it’. So-called ‘genre’ fiction has given us deathless characters like Sherlock Holmes, Ford Prefect and James Bond, who have forever influenced our culture and language; what is there to be snobbish about?
Tell us your secret talent(s) – apart from the cakes I was going to say the cakes, so that’s put me right off my stride. I like doing killer Sudokus does that count as a talent? I also have prehensile toes, though I suppose that might be classified as deformity. Nobody has ever enjoyed watching me write with my feet.
Photography JP Masclet
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Imagination Unconfined Elspeth Cooper
Fantasy has always spoken to me. I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe it was my parents’ fault – they read me Ivanhoe as a bedtime story and from that moment on I favoured books with an element of the fantastic, from Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat to King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. My appetite for stories was insatiable; I had to know what happened next. I devoured Susan Cooper and Alan Garner and the entire YA section of the local library, plus whatever else was in the house that I could get my hands on. As I got older I branched out into thrillers, historicals and the like, but I keep coming back to fantasy, because no matter how dark or bizarre the world, it always feels, to me, like coming home. It’s imagination unconfined, and the writer can play it as straight or as twisted as they want, to hold up a mirror to real-world problems, or provide the ultimate escape from them. Of course, that element of escapism is often used as a stick to beat the fantasy genre with, especially by the literary establishment (and the occasional SF snob who really should know better than to start throwing stones) who maintain that escapism is somehow bad for you, and therefore to be discouraged. All fiction is escapism of one sort or another, and on this one I find myself firmly with Tolkein: “Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape? … If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!” That’s the thing about fantasy: as long as your world is consistent and credible, you can colour as far outside the lines as you wish, which is what makes the genre so incredibly rich, so varied in texture and tone. It’s rarely the same twice. That’s not to say it doesn’t change. There are tides in genre fiction, as there are in the mainstream. Back in the 80s fantasy seemed to have a rash of prophecy-based quests and destined heroes of the tow-headed-farmboy type. More recently the trend has been towards morally ambiguous characters, with more complex explorations of big-ticket issues, like power-play and politics, ambition
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and its consequences, through the medium of the fantastic – beautifully illustrated by HBO’s lavish adaptation of George RR Martin’s A Game of Thrones. So the bar for a new fantasy writer has never been set higher. There have been some astonishing debuts in recent years, like Joe Abercrombie, Pat Rothfuss, Daniel Abraham. It’s getting harder and harder to impress, because there are so many damn fine writers already jostling for attention. Into which buzzing marketplace steps yours truly, stage left, blinking nervously in the lights and wishing she’d gone to the loo first. Gulp. Now, I’m not trying to be different for different’s sake, or consciously using my fantasy landscape to explore social or ideological problems – although there’s a few that I touch on tangentially. I just have a story in my head that I want to tell in an entertaining fashion. I believe the fantasy church is broad enough that there’s room for that without me having to fit some sort of mould – or shatter one, come to that. One thing I have tried to do is make my characters palpably human, as flawed and fallible as you or I. I wanted events to unfold because of the choices those characters make, not because they’ve been given a role to play - the prophesied-hero trope was such a staple of my fantasy diet in my teens that I sickened myself for it. As a result there’s no prophecy in Songs of the Earth, and my protagonist Gair is nobody’s long-lost heir, nor an ancient hero reborn. What he makes of himself is one of the themes running through The Wild Hunt series. It’s taken 18 months for the reality of publication to sink in. I knew the odds were stacked against me, especially in such a crowded genre as fantasy, so once the deal was done I asked my agent what made me stand out from the rest of the scripts on his desk. Was it the characters, the pace, the setting? He said it was all of those things, and yet nothing that he could pin down: it was that I’ll-knowit-when-I-see-it X-factor that made him keep turning the pages until he got to the end. And can any writer ask for more than that: for the reader to keep reading?
Elspeth Cooper lives in Northumberland with her husbands and cats, in a house full of books. Her debut novel, Songs of the Earth: Book 1 of The Wild Hunt (Gollancz) comes out in hardcover and trade paperback on 16 June 2011.
DANCERS NOVELS Jo Reed
Available from all good bookshops, Amazon or direct from http://www.wildwolfpublishing.com ‘Compelling and intense’ Liz Williams, award winning scifi/fantasy author
‘You will fall in love with the story and not want to ever put it down’ Teresa Aguilar for The
‘Dynamic, intelligent and terrifying, A Child of the Blood blends fantastic elements of the past and a menacing view of the future to create one hell of a present …’ Words with Jam
Trapped in a nightmare society, a reluctant dictator struggles to overcome the legacy of his past in order to save the future from a madman’s twisted dream.
When a psychopath with inhuman power steps out of the past to forge a twisted empire in the present, one man will risk his life, and anyone else’s, to stop him.
Join the Dance at http://www.joreed.co.uk
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Write a story for bedtime 3rd Prize (2 prizes)
Many people relax into sleep by reading in bed and a short story is the perfect way to do it. Entries, in English, should be between 1500 and 3000 words. Any subject matter except children’s stories and erotica. Full competition rules can be found on www.avogel.co.uk/story (closing date 28th October 2011)
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Viral Aftermath by BigAl
magine you are a new author with an e-book for Kindle owners released two months ago. You’ve sold almost three thousand copies, fifty on an average day. Suddenly you sell over fifty thousand one day and almost two hundred thousand the next. In less than two weeks your total sales passes a half-million. Change books to blog visits and you have my story. If you spend much time on the Internet hanging out with people who create or read books, this has been yesterday’s news for two months. In short, I gave a less-than-favorable review on my book blog, BigAl’s Books and Pals, to an e-book called The Greek Seaman. When I ignored the author’s emails demanding I delete the review, she argued her case in the comments area. Word spread and before long news of the incident had “gone viral.”
authors in attitude or quality of work since, in my experience, she isn’t. Yet, looking back, I cannot think of anything I should have done differently except possibly shutting down comments about the review before it became “piling on” with nothing new being said. I can’t say I learned new lessons. However, the experience reinforced many things I already knew. The most significant is that on the internet, just as in the “real world,” cooling down before responding to something upsetting is a good idea. Not responding at all is often better. Not long ago I heard an author interviewed on a podcast say that he might receive ninety-nine five star reviews and a single one star, yet the only review he can quote from memory is the one star. As I read the commentary on the incident around the Internet, only the minority had anything negative to say about me,
If you spend much time on the Internet hanging out with people who create or read books, this has been yesterday’s news for two months. In short, I gave a less-than-favorable review on my book blog, BigAl’s Books and Pals, to an e-book called The Greek Seaman. When I ignored the author’s emails demanding I delete the review, she argued her case in the comments area. Word spread and before long news of the incident had “gone viral.” If you would like more details, opinions of countless bloggers and a few newspapers, or my reaction before things settled down, Google is your friend. Words With JAM thought a more interesting and fresher story would be my view of the incident with a bit more distance. Tell what the impact has been to my blog. Maybe get introspective and discuss any lessons learned. As you might expect, most of those half-million visits were gawkers. They came, scanned the review, and read comments until bored. Then they left forever. Other than providing body count for my Warholian fifteen minutes, they don’t matter. However, some visitors clicked around my blog. They liked what they saw and were interested in returning. A month after the peak the impact has been consistent across all metrics. Ten times more followers, the backlog of books to review is ten times as big, and I have ten times the reviewers to read them. After accounting for those only there for the infamous review, I’m also getting ten times the visitors. Increasing my engaged audience by a factor of ten is obviously positive. Most of the fallout has been good. The downsides have been few. A fear that growing too fast could be my undoing and a new hypersensitivity to typos in my own writing are two negatives. Observing an internet mob run amok was disconcerting. I wasn’t pleased that many felt this author was representative of most indie
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yet those were what stuck in my mind. I was lucky to have just read a lot of good advice on what to do. The proper reaction is the same as the proper author reaction to a bad review. Try to understand the reasoning behind the negative comment or critique. Evaluate whether it is valid or, if not, try to understand why someone might feel that way. Determine what you can learn from the comment to improve in the future. Thank the commenter if expected or appropriate and leave. Last, I think there is a lesson in my experience for the author, struggling to get word out about their book to agents, publishers, or readers. In the age of the Internet, predicting what will result in an unexpected flood of attention is unpredictable. Make sure that if you get an unexpected turn in the spotlight it shows you in a positive light. That way opportunity will knock rather than run away.
s r a c s O k o o B ic m o C who know them, e os th to n ow kn er tt be ’re ey th (Or as The Eisner Awards) By Andrew Ramsay Nominations have recently been announced for this year’s Eisner Awards. For those uninitiated in the world of comics (what on earth do you do in your spare time?), the Eisner’s are a set of awards issued to particular comics and comic creators etc for the past year’s work. There are currently around 29 different categories including; Best Continuing Series, Best New Series, Best Writer, Best Penciller, Best Writer/Artist etc … “Why should this be of any interest to me?” I hear you ask (well I don’t actually hear you ask it, as that would point to signs of mental ill health). It should be of interest because it’s a quick pointer towards what’s hip and happening in the world of comic geekdom. After a brief period being known as the Kirby awards, the Eisner awards were re-named after the world famous cartoonist Will Eisner. Eisner is mainly famous for his creation, The Spirit comic strip. Originally set up in 1987, a relative baby in the world of awards, it delivered the first set of honours the following year. Eisner died in 2005 (thankfully this prevented him seeing the atrocity that was The Spirit movie). Eisner, of Jewish parents, grew up in the tenements of New York and these influences can be seen in his dark and dangerous, whilst highly romanticised views of ‘The City’. Previous winners of these prestigious awards have been Paul Chadwick’s Concrete and Alan Moore’s Watchmen, with Stan Lee and Harvey Kurtzman among others being inducted into the Hall of Fame. Neil Gaiman also has received a number of nominations and awards for his brilliant Sandman series. My personal recommendations from this year’s nominations would be the landmark 100th issue of Fables, if only to give you a taste of a wonderful view by writer Bill Willingham of long told characters such as Red Riding Hood, Jack, The Big Bad Wolf, Cinderella etc, forced to leave their land of Fables and live in the world of us ‘norms’. Keeping up with you cool kids who understand the world of digital technology (I can just about manage to use this electronic typewriter) The Abominable Charles Christopher can be found at www.abominable.cc shows the wonderful artwork of Karl Kerschl. Dave Stevens has been nominated for his Rocketeer, the Artists Edition, in the Best Archival collection section. Stevens died in 2008 but is a hugely respected writer/artist and should receive the award if only for his beautiful renditions of the famous Betty Page within the pages of his Rocketeer books. Again, please ignore the terrible Timothy Dalton film, yet another instance of the only abandoned plan by Hollywoodland to discredit comics in any way they could (wankers). In the Best Writer/ Artist Section, it should be an interesting battle between Dan Clowes and Terry Moore. Clowes for his Wilson book, a collection of stories about the main character Wilson’s bizarre life told via his slightly dark writing and his bizarrely compelling artwork; and Terry Moore for the beautifully illustrated Echo. Yes, I recognise that this is a brief foray into the world of the Eisner Awards, one that is very much weighted towards what I enjoy, but hopefully it might just point you in the direction of a good book or two. Or at least make you look someone up on Wikipedia and learn something about comic book history and its future. Let’s hope, eh? P.S. The winners will be announced in July.
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Zimmerframe Blues Procrastinating with Perry Iles In deference to the YA theme that permeates this month’s WWJ like a mild expletive through a stick of magazineflavoured rock, Perry Iles has put his usual brand of ranting invective and potty-mouthed filth on the back burner and presented his soft, white underbelly to the world as he discusses a rock of a different flavour. I spent a blissful summer last year thinking Justin Bieber was a cartoon character called Jason Beaver. That isn’t to say I’m not down with the kids or anything. I know my Tinchy Clyro from my Buffy Stryder, but a few days ago I was walking downstairs when this awful sound began to seep from the living room. My nine-year-old daughter was dancing to some kind of oleaginous unpleasantness that sounded like Vaseline would sound if it could make a noise. ‘What the blithering flip is that?’ I asked her. ‘Justin Bieber,’ she replied. ‘I’ve got Bieber fever, Daddy.’ I was feeling a bit off colour myself. I’ve seen my daughter through James Blunt and Snow Patrol and Pixie Lott, and having a kid stops you from making the sort of elementary mistakes I made in the nineties when I thought Nerys Hughes was the singer off of Catatonia, but what did I ever do to deserve this new attack of ghastliness? I’ve done my time, I’ve paid my price, I gave at the office. I looked at Justin Bieber’s picture on the CD cover. ‘Jesus, look at that hair,’ I said, ‘it looks like someone’s ironed his head. Are you sure that’s a boy?’ My daughter stared at me across the jagged, yawning experience-scape of generations, booby-trapped with the landmines of a life not yet lived. To me she suddenly seemed bigger than destiny, less accessible than the moon. Then I looked into the mirror. Looking back at me was my father, his face set to stern, eyebrows beetled
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into a frown. He was sitting in his armchair in my childhood living room, watching the camera panning up the stencilled-on charts as Alan Freeman invited pop-pickers to listen to the Rolling Stones’ Not Fade Away on Top of the Pops. My dad, dead these past thirty years, was making pretty much the same comments to a nine-year-old me as he floated inside his little cloud of Player’s Navy Cut tobacco smoke and pointed the stem of his pipe at the lithe, strutting form of Mick Jagger on our little bakelite black and white Dynatron television. Back in the now, I stopped and thought for a moment. Then I googled Justin Bieber and discovered I’m twenty years older than his mum. I took myself outside and shot myself. The world belongs to the young again. As for me, I’m an embarrassing guest in my daughter’s world, and one day my love will be some dust in an old man’s cup who is tapping his foot to a tune and I’ll be left brandishing a cane at the television or throwing liver at the wall until the social workers come round to change my nappy. But something has happened to music. It’s been taken from its rebel strongholds and has fallen into the hands of the establishment. It’s been tamed and forced to wear suits and speak nicely. The Rolling Stones (in the days before some sinless soul made the first statue) were threats that lurked around the edges of the establishment poking shitty sticks at our English sense of quiet desperation. There’s something going on round here but you don’t know what it is, do you, Brian Jones? No, because you’re dead at the bottom of a swimming pool and every father the length and breadth of the land is pointing out that this is what happens if you smoke those funny cigarettes, and all the kids are believing them because rock and roll is young and the world is still innocent and society is still set to gullible. But in the end they captured popular music and now it’s a performing seal in a circus for the stupid. Justin Bieber is a practising Christian who doesn’t believe in sex before marriage and doesn’t smoke, and no doubt he watches his calorie intake and goes jogging, and one day he’ll marry Miley Cyrus but they won’t be able to reproduce, thank Christ, because they both have
smooth plastic bumps instead of genitalia. So we’ve gone from Cliff Richard to Justin Bieber in fifty years. It’s like music’s driven slowly and politely round the block and come back to find the same parking space is still free. What luck, eh? Meanwhile, Miley Cyrus is singing about wanting to be “a part of something I don’t know”. Sorry love, they’ve mapped it all now, they got there before you could and they’ve staked the claims and tamed the land where the wild things used to be and Simon Cowell’s put the towels on the deckchairs and moulded your dreams into the Disney Rebellion Theme Park. What’s today’s main attraction? Dunno, what’ve you got? Well we used to have no direction home, but now there’s just One Direction. Cheers, Simon. They. Who’s all this “they”? That’d be me, wouldn’t it? Let’s face it, I’m in charge now whether I like it or not. When my daughter becomes a teenager, do I want her to take drugs until she’s so high only dogs can hear her and practise unsafe sex and go shoplifting with all her wrong friends and develop a smoker’s cough? No. Would I want her to sit around all day playing guitar in the middle of a field and singing about peace, love and understanding until they paved her over and put up a parking lot? Didn’t do me any harm, I suppose. It’s just something you have to go through when you’re a kid. A bit like National Service, only without all the rifles and the getting yelled at and painting coal white and shit. One day Daddy’s little girl won’t be a girl no more. What do I want her to be instead? And come to that, where are my musical idols these days? Now that I’m old, I own sixty-three versions of Neil Young’s Cowgirl in the Sand. Which is the best one? The answer’s simple. It’s on the Fillmore live CD of his Archives set. It was recorded over 40 years ago, it hasn’t been overdubbed or digitally re-mastered and it’s a wondrous noise that could blister paint from half a mile away. But it means that Neil Young has been churning out guitar solos since the days of Buffalo Springfield nearly half a century ago. How long before we can mention him in the same sentence as Status Quo? Round that metaphorical block we go again. Here’s another thing that age and experience
brings: a reappraisal of all this so-called lyrical brilliance. In 1972 the underground magazine Oz labelled Leonard Cohen a sexist pig. Now he’s a dapper old gentleman in an Armani suit and a fedora, off on another world tour, doffing his hat to the multitudes as he recreates the timeless emotional maturity of those same lyrics. Leonard Cohen is 76 now. Seventy-six. Meanwhile, young Bobby Dylan’s early recordings are revealing him to have been a petulant teenager hiding his sulkiness behind the bright, flashy chrome of his wordage. Listen to Like a Rolling Stone, Queen Jane Approximately, Idiot Wind and the last verse of Desolation Row. They’re a bit immature, aren’t they? A little bit toys-outof-the-pram, perhaps, a little bit servesyou-right-you’re-nothing-without-me. No wonder he went Country after Blonde on Blonde. It’s the work of a misogynistic egotist, but compared to the prophets of
lacerating my brain so I’ve gone out and bought Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation. I put it on and there’s this descending minor chord sequence at the start of Teenage Riot with Kim Gordon muttering “sweet desire… sweet desire” over and over. Up go the hairs on the back of my neck and they stay up until the last note of Eliminator Jr has faded away an hour or so later. This is the best music in the history of music. It’s summer, it’s hot, and whilst my body is in pastoral Cambridgeshire, this gorgeous apocalyptic cacophony has placed my brain on the altar of a shimmering cathedral of feedback in New York City where the air tastes of petrol and cigarettes, everything’s noisy, everyone’s rude and armed and dangerous and tunes are for girls. Reassured that music isn’t dead (it just went for a little lie down after punk died), I go from Sonic Youth to Swans to Nirvana’s Bleach, through the Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine
music is any more. It’s young and old and gone and it’s left me up to my waist in quicksand not knowing if I’m cool or just cold. And I’m lamenting all the lost years. All the lost souls and the missed chances. Time transports me back to a land of virginity and chin-fluff when the world was just a door that was always ajar and everything was important and everything meant something. I look at my kid and see that same innocence in her eyes and it makes me remember my own and I consider the gulf that separates us, and how my journey from music to noise reflected my growing cynicism and how that cynicism became a mainstream concept as the world grew wearier and Sonic Youth got name-checked by every pseudo-indie band this side of stage school while Nick Cave capered about in the background in a silly moustache persuading the elderly to buy Grinderman CDs.
And I’m lamenting all the lost years. All the lost souls and the missed chances. Time transports me back to a land of virginity and chin-fluff when the world was just a door that was always ajar and everything was important and everything meant something. I look at my kid and see that same innocence in her eyes and it makes me remember my own and I consider the gulf that separates us ... destruction that were coming at us down the pike, Dylan’s gender-based intransigence is nothing to Eminem or Snoop, who took the sexual symbolism of Elvis Presley’s gyrating hips and led the world from Hound Dog to bitch in the time it took Jerry Garcia to finish a guitar solo and die. Hey, progress at last! The Elysian pastures of the hippie dream that Oz helped to create by defining the boundaries of taste and acceptability have been churned to mud by the monster truck rally of rap. Which is just peachy by me. Music still has the power to offend, just like it did in Stravinsky’s day. God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world. Now here’s a personal moment from 1989. Jon Bon Jovi’s singing about walking these streets with a loaded six-string on his back and people are sitting back and letting him when they should really be sniggering at his spandex-and-mullet banality and then chasing him into a swamp with really pointy pitchforks. The vapidity of it all is
to And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead and the Mars Volta. Eventually there comes a time when I’m sitting down and actually listening to Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music. It’s the logical endpoint of my love of noise. The years go by and I reach the present, where I’m praising Canada for Godspeed You! Black Emperor whilst cursing it for Justin Bieber, when out of the left field, back comes Brian Wilson and I’m watching him on an obscure television channel recreating the sound of Good Vibrations live with an orchestra of Theremins, so I dig out an old copy of Surf ’s Up and play Disney Girls and my hair starts to stand on end again and my daughter smiles and tells me how lovely it is and then asks me why I’m crying and I tell her that amongst other things it’s because Justin Bieber could be singing this song without any hint of irony whatsoever, despite the fact that the Beach Boys produced precious pearls of beauty like Disney Girls and Bieber produces anodyne crap. I’m crying because I don’t know what
And lastly I’m misty-eyed because I’m remembering how simple and carefree it was to sit in my front garden in 1971 with the window open and the sound of David Crosby’s Tree With No Leaves leaking through from the radiogram above the summer murmur of bumblebees and distant traffic with the future laid out before me like an unbroken promise. Music isn’t rebellion any more. Nothing is. The world is safer, healthier, harder, faster, better. I’m no longer afraid of the dark or midday shadows. Music hasn’t killed me so it must have made me stronger. But Nietzsche’s abyss is looking back into me now and telling me the ultimate truth, which is that I don’t matter any more. The world belongs to my daughter now, so perhaps I’d better just give her some milk or else go home.
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Lit-Thick by Danny Gillan And so, to genres. The cataloguing and labelling of books into genres developed as a convenient and welcome aid to readers in order that they might easily find novels best suited to their tastes. Or, they developed as a convenient and welcome aid to book shop staff in order that they didn’t need to put too much thought into where to point lazy customers when they ask for ‘something a bit like Stephen King, but not so violent, or American. Or long.’ Or, they were developed by the marketing departments of publishing houses in order that they could use words like ‘target demographics’ and ‘Tesco’ during sales meetings. As a reader I don’t mind the labels, to be honest. They can make book shopping a quicker, more focussed experience if that’s all you have time for. I’ve found the best label to go for is the one called ‘fiction’, but that’s just me, narrow minded. And that’s all genre labels are – a way of telling you roughly what to expect from any given novel. So, if it’s under Science-Fiction, it’ll most likely involve spaceships and galactic civilisations battling for supremacy. Or at the very least cloning and stuff. If it’s called Speculative Fiction then you’ll know you’re in a book shop that’s embarrassed to be selling science-fiction. Thriller will mean serial killers and a tortured, ex-alcoholic main character who doesn’t get on with authority. Or a functioning alcoholic who doesn’t get on with his father. Or a tee-total, happily married and entirely healthy main character who doesn’t sell many books.
Young Adult will have vampires (or is it zombies now?) chatting up schoolgirls in a not-at-all-creepy-when-you-think-about-it way. Fantasy will be next to Science Fiction for no apparent reason and will probably contain at least one dragon and a big sword. And a quest of some sort, probably. Horror will be empty because most of the authors have switched to Young Adult. Then there’s Chick-Lit, Romance, Children’s Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic Zombie Romance/Cookery etc etc. Loads of the things. And they all do a fairly decent job of telling you what kind of book you can expect. What they don’t do is tell you if a given book is a good example of the genre. That’s down to the reader to decide. You pays your money, you takes your paperback. Many writers dislike seeing their work
and if it does I have no idea who decided what the criteria for qualification should be. I speak, of course, of Literary Fiction, or ‘the two most depressing words in the English language’, as David Hare so accurately put it. There is nothing more boring, pretentious and slap-worthy that a writer who declares to the world that they write literary fiction. I don’t care if they’ve sold millions (hah) or are unpublished. Writers should not be allowed to award themselves this badge (unless they’re Jasper Fforde)! Because that’s exactly what they’re doing – pinning a badge to their chests that says: I write proper stuff, me. I am a REAL writer. I am above genre, above commerce and above criticism. And it’s that last one that’s the crime. Above criticism? I beg to fucking differ, mate (intentional split-infinitive to emphasise level of annoyance, there). I have witnessed some entirely unsuccessful and unpublished writers say things like: ‘I don’t worry about criticism, my writing isn’t about plot, or story, or character, or anything that might inadvertently cause a reader enjoyment of any sort. It’s about my use of the words themselves. I’m a pioneer, an artist, and I know I’ll never be a success because most readers are too shallow to understand my work.’ Well, no, sir. You are a twat. The problem with Literary Fiction (I feel dirty even giving it capital letters) as a genre is that it carries with it some imagined assumption of quality. When in fact, just like every other genre, most of it is shite. Don’t get me wrong, there are some beautifully written works of fiction out there that merit the label, but it’s a label that should only ever be given by readers to the author, not one the author has any right to appropriate for themselves. Cloud Atlas is a recent example that probably deserves the accolade of being a work of literary genius, but it’s actually a science fiction story
‘that’s all genre labels are – a way of telling you roughly what to expect from any given novel. So, if it’s under Science-Fiction, it’ll most likely involve spaceships and galactic civilisations battling for supremacy. Or at the very least cloning and stuff. If it’s called Speculative Fiction then you’ll know you’re in a book shop that’s embarrassed to be selling science-fiction.’
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labelled in this way. Some feel their books don’t neatly slip into the conventions and so may not find the intended readership. Some consciously write cross-genre stories and therefore have no idea how to pitch them to genre obsessed agents/publishers/ readers. These are valid concerns about which no one except the writer cares. There is, however, one genre I find troubling. In fact I’m not even sure it exists,
(don’t try to deny it, Mitchell.) and that’s where it should be found on the shelves, right alongside equally well-written and thought provoking books by Iain M Banks, Brian Aldiss, China Miéville and so many others. Another personal favourite was the Pulitzer winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon. Chabon is a self-confessed comic book geek who coupled this love with his interest in the Jewish experience to write a superb novel about the early days of super-hero comics. It deserves every accolade it received, and yes, should definitely be regarded as literature of the highest order. It’s about comics and has a Golem in it. Chabon also wrote an eventually unused script for the first SpiderMan film. I doubt he calls himself anything
other than a writer of fiction. That his work, and that of many others, deservedly sees them elevated to the level of literary elite is a mark of the quality of their work, not the label. And yes, plenty of novels don’t fit into any of the traditional genres. They’re not about robots, or vampires, or murderers, or the police, or dogs, or elfs and orcs or whatever. They’re just human stories about realistic people and their troubles, sometimes funny, sometimes sad. That does not automatically make them literary fiction. It just makes them Fiction, or, if they must have a label, General Fiction. If we have to use the term Literary Fiction, let’s use it to award the finest writers of every genre, not the ones whose heads
were already so far up their arses they could see through their own teeth before they typed ‘Chapter One’. And yes, Atwood. The Handmaid’s Tale is science fiction, too. Danny’s novel Scratch is available for download on Kindle on Amazon.co.uk and on Amazon. com. It’s even available in Germany if you’re feeling ambitious. A recent Scratch reader said - ‘I laughed so hard I think I actually let out a little bit of wee’. This is the nicest thing anyone has ever said to Danny. Danny has a pointless blog at www.dannygillan. co.uk and can be found on Facebook if you want to insult him in a public forum.
Painfully obvious he had crossed the line by Matt Shaw
60 Second Interviews with JJ Marsh
Each month, we persuade, tempt and coerce (or bully, harass and blackmail) two writers into spilling the contents of their shelves. Twelve questions on books and writing. Plus the Joker – a wild thirteenth card which can reveal so much. Be honest, what do you put on YOUR chips? Your intrepid reporter, Jill
Which was your favourite childhood book? Just William by Richmal Crompton.
Where do you write? In an office at the end of my garden in Killiney, Dublin.
Which was the book that changed your life? The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger is the book that made me want to be a writer myself.
What objects are on your desk, and why? About Joseph Joseph O’Connor was born in Dublin. He is the author of the novels Cowboys and Indians (short-listed for the Whitbread Prize), Desperadoes, The Salesman, Inishowen, Star of the Sea and Redemption Falls, as well as a number of bestselling works of non-fiction. He has also written film scripts and stage-plays including the award-winning Red Roses and Petrol. His novel Star of the Sea was an international bestseller, selling more than a million copies and being published in 38 languages. It won France’s Prix Millepages, Italy’s Premio Acerbi, the Irish Post Award for Fiction, the Neilsen Bookscan Golden Book Award, an American Library Association Award, the Hennessy / Sunday Tribune Hall of Fame Award, and the Prix Litteraire Zepter for European Novel of the Year. He was recently voted ‘Irish Writer of the Decade’ by the readers of Hot Press magazine. He broadcasts a popular weekly radio diary on RTE’s Drivetime With Mary Wilson and writes regularly for The Guardian Review and The Sunday Independent. In 2009 he was the Harman Visiting Professor of Creative Writing at Baruch College, the City University of New York. His most recent novel Ghost Light was published by Vintage in June 2010 to rave reviews internationally and spent nine weeks as a number one Irish besteller. Ghost Light was also Dublin’s ‘One City One Book’ novel for 2011. http://www.josephoconnorauthor. com/index.html
Apart from my computer and my notebooks, I have nothing on my desk. But above it is a photograph taken by my hero, the musician and writer Patti Smith, of Thomas Mann’s typewriter. She gave me the picture when I was fortunate enough to meet her in New York in the winter of 2009, and I treasure it.
Which book should every child read? These days, something by Rick Riordan. My own children love his work.
Do you have a word or phrase that you most overuse? My father sometimes quotes an old Dublin saying, “Fuck the begrudgers”, and I repeat it far too often.
Is there a book you were supposed to love but didn’t? Alas, I have never been able to love any work that contains a hobbit.
What have you learned from writing? That it’s hard.
Which book do you wish you’d written? My next novel.
E-books – nemesis or genesis? A little of both. Something in my soul shrivels every time I see someone reading a Kindle, but it’s foolish not to accept that this is the future.
How does your approach differ when writing fiction and non-fiction? It doesn’t. I try to tell a story.
What are you working on at the moment? A collection of short stories.
What would be your winning Masterchef dish? A packet of cigarettes and a glass of Merlot.
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What objects are on your desk, and why? That changes on any given day. I’m messiest when I’m deeply involved with what I’m writing. Today, two purple loose leaf notebooks, one filled with research and notes for the book I’m writing; the second holding a first draft of the same book. Also, a paperweight; box of Kleenex; cup holding an assortment of pens, pencils, markers; scotch tape; stapler; scissors; land line telephone; iPhone; intercom to rest of house; To Do list; computer, several pads of Post-its. Printer on a side table. Photograph by Sigrid Estrada
Which book should every child read?
That would be a different book for each child. The object is to find that book that’s going to make a difference, that’s so going to delight, intrigue, inform that it will make that child want to read, read, read, all his/her life.
About Judy By SA Jordan
Do you have a word or phrase that you most overuse?
Born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Judy Blume is one of the biggest-selling children’s authors of all time. She has written over 25 books, including three for adults, sold 80 million copies worldwide, and won over 90 literary awards. Her books have been translated into 31 different languages. Judy is a long time campaigner against censorship and works alongside The National Coalition Against Censorship protecting what she calls the freedom to read.
Actually, I’m not sure. Aha! That’s it -- actually.
An established writer for over 40 years, Blume has not so much flirted with controversy as jumped into the back seat with it. An honest, refreshing and much-needed approach to taboo subjects such as; teenage sexuality Forever (1975), masturbation Deenie (1973), Then Again Maybe I Won’t (1972) and the twin ‘evils’ of puberty and religion as featured in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (1970) have propelled the ‘Queen of Teen’ to the top of the most-banned list of books in the US, time after time. A multi-million, award-winning, controversial author, Judy is so much more than that. She doesn’t just write for children, she understands them. Her talent for immersing herself in a child’s world is untouched. She may be a mother to three, but judging by the millions of letters and emails she’s received, she’s a mother to the masses. Such was the size of her postbag, she published Letters to Judy: What Kids Wish They Could Tell You (1986), a mix of readers’ letters and Judy’s own experiences. It’s impossible to convey the influence she’s had on her millions of loyal readers, or to say just how many authors felt the first stirrings to write and reached for a pen after reading her books. There is no measure for such things and no words to explain the outstanding writer and woman that is Judy Blume. http://www.judyblume.com
Is there a book you were supposed to love but didn’t? I’m trying to come up with one but so far, no luck.
What have you learned from writing? Everything! That determination is as important as talent. Not to let anyone discourage you. To stand up for what you believe in. To be true to your characters.
Which book do you wish you’d written? Too many titles come to mind. I’m not good at choosing one of anything. I once grew so discouraged by reading a great book while I was trying to write, I couldn’t write a word for three months.
E-books - nemesis or genesis? I’m a realist. E-books are here to stay. I accept that. I have an E-reader myself. But that doesn’t mean I’m giving up on books as we know them. I love to see my favs sitting on my bookshelves. And I love bookshops. But if the object is to keep more people reading and buying books, I think E-books may help.
You’ve fought long and hard against censorship. Are things getting better for writers, and readers?
Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
It’s all cyclical. Those who want to control what kids think/read will always come up with a new book to ban. What’s better is more schools and libraries have policies in place. What’s worse is groups who are gaining popularity with parents and teachers by rating books. We should all be asking, according to whose standards?
Where do you write?
What are you working on at the moment?
In Key West, where it’s always summer, in a study that opens to a garden. On Martha’s Vineyard, during July and August, in a tiny writing cabin with a view out to sea. I’ve written many books there. Am I lucky or what?
A novel - I think it will be YA but I can’t be sure yet.
Which was your favourite childhood book?
What’s your favourite smell? Vanilla.
Which was the book that changed your life? Books changed my life, reading changed my life. Finding myself in fiction changed my life. Of the books I’ve written, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret changed my life and made me believe I might actually be a writer.
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What Judy How I Didn’t Means To Me... Get a Book Deal As a child, Judy led me by the hand through all those terrible firsts. As a writer, she gave me the courage to write in the present tense and perhaps the most important of all, as a mother she has given me the words to have all those awkward teenage conversations with my son. Helen G. Smith, writer, Scotland
Judy's books are about believing in yourself, questioning life and not always accepting the status quo. In Blubber she starts chapter 10 with the words ....... "Not crazy, just different". This sums up my philosophy on life. One person's crazy is just another person's different. Different is good. Different is being who you are. In this world of Facebook and a thousand friends, Judy Blume lets kids know it is OK to be who they are. They don't need to pretend or be fake being something they are not. Alison Lopez, translator, Switzerland Judy Blume is the author who made me want to become a writer. As a child and teen reading her work, I felt that she was one of the only adults who truly understood me. Her characters, as real to me as my own friends, made me realize that I was not alone. As an adult, I admire the way she takes on topics that are difficult to talk about and writes about them in a way that creates a dialogue. Janet Skeslien Charles, author of Moonlight in Odessa, Paris I went from Enid Blyton to Judy Blume. What a transition! I grew up with Judy - her writing is clever, funny, insightful and filled with human warmth. She transformed my reading life. Sheila Bugler, writer, London Voraciously reading Judy Blume as a young boy was like being allowed into the secret world of the female and being privy to things that no girl would otherwise discuss with a rough and tumble young lad: periods, bras, bodily functions. It was illuminating and gave me an extra insight over non-reading contemporaries. More than anything though, it turned out that adolescent and teenage American girls weren’t actually that different from young English boys: they still had much the same worries, concerns, anxieties and insecurities. Learning that at a young age was liberating. And learning it through fiction made me realise the power of writing: how a good story can be educational and entertaining, and hopefully transcend gender, race, age, nationality and era. Ben Myers, journalist and author of Richard, Yorkshire
Judy Blume has an iconic place in the pantheon of writers for young people, and deservedly so. Her insights, her humanity, her ability to make characters leap off the page and into her readers' imaginations is extraordinary. As the former Publishing Director of Judy's British home, Macmillan, I was proud to play a part in bringing her novels to new generations of UK readers. Now, as an agent based in the USA, I've realized afresh just what she achieved in opening doors for young readers, sometimes against considerable odds and what her work still means to countless Americans today who grew up enriched, entertained and imaginatively enlarged by her stories. Sarah Davies, Greenhouse Literary Agency, Washington DC When people ask me about the authors who inspired me to become a writer myself, I say John Steinbeck, John Cheever, John Updike, Dorothy Parker, J.D. Salinger, Truman Capote ... and Judy Blume. As a kid, her books consumed me like a fever. To this day, I can recall Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret, Then Again, Maybe I Won’t and It’s Not the End of the World in their entirety. With their intimate, colloquial voices and their subject matter, they were like incredible older sisters and brothers - co-conspirators, really - offering frank, reassuring insights into myself, the adult world, and the process of growing up. Stories told so beautifully, with great humor, detail, and pacing. Judy Blume deserves a huge valentine from all children who came of age during her career. Certainly, she has place on my altar. Susan Jane Gilman, bestselling author of “Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven”
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by Lorraine Mace
Like many writers, I used to think that getting an agent was the Holy Grail. That once I had an agent everything else, such as a book deal and, who knows, maybe even movie rights, would swiftly follow. That might have been the case in the past, but in recent years it seems the industry has become much more cautious about giving book deals to debut authors – unless, of course, they already have a strong market presence. This is the story of how I got an agent for my children’s novel, received loads of positive feedback from many of the top publishing houses, but didn’t get a book deal. As for the movie rights, the closest I’ve got to those is buying a ticket at the cinema. My children’s book is centred around a hupyre – half human, half vampire. Vlad, an eleven-year-old vegetarian, asthmatic, who can’t turn into a bat and is scared of the dark, is despised by both humans and vampires alike, but by the end of the book, he finds courage, makes friends and saves the world (well, his particular corner of it, anyway). I contacted a specialist children’s agent who has had spectacular success with some of her authors. Following the instructions on her website, I sent an initial inquiry containing very little more than what is outlined in the paragraph above. She answered by saying she received an average of ten enquiries per day and usually says her client list is full. However, she liked the sound of my manuscript and said she would love to see the opening chapters. Could I email them, please? Could I? You betcha. They went off almost before I’d finished reading her email. So, at least I now knew I had a good concept. All that remained was to see whether she liked my writing. The answer to that question came by email two hours later. She said: “I don't usually print things off immediately and read but I looked at the first page and really liked it so I read on. Could you email me the rest?” Needless to say, this caused a massive celebration in the form of a daft dance around the house. Wow, how amazing was this? I could barely contain my excitement that night, but I soon learned how to because I didn’t hear from her again for several weeks, and when I finally did, the news wasn’t at all what I’d wanted to hear. The rest of the book didn’t live up to the promise of the early chapters – and she was kind enough to go into great detail about why the balance of the story hadn’t worked for her. Although bitterly disappointed, I could see exactly what she meant. I asked if she’d look at a revised version and was thrilled when she said yes.
Over the next few weeks I rewrote – and then rewrote again and again. I had two beta readers who must have been sick to death of the story after reading so many different versions. Finally, when I couldn’t bear thinking about the book, far less rewriting it yet again, I sent it off. Two agonising months later I got the phone call I’d been praying for – and had an agent. Which is where this article started – I’d landed the Holy Grail and everything was about to fall into my lap, right? Wrong. The opening chapters of Vlad were duly sent off to Scholastic and HarperCollins US. Scholastic asked to see the rest of the book, but HarperCollins US declined. The editor liked my writing style and humour but thought the vampire market might be getting saturated in the US – or could be by the time a new manuscript got to publication. Also they thought the vampire theme worked better for teen readers – at least in the US. So although that was a rejection, I still had a maybe in Scholastic. Sadly, they too eventually declined, but asked to see my next book, so it wasn’t a rejection of me as such, just my lovely book, which felt almost as bad. But that paled into insignificance because the next sign of interest came from the publisher every writer of children’s novels prays will like their work – Bloomsbury. When the email from my agent dropped into my inbox saying the editor wanted to see the next in the series, my heart almost stopped beating. My daughter was visiting from Gibraltar at the time, so I had company for the daft dance around the house. The only problem was that book two was only at first draft stage – and knowing how much rewriting I’d had to do on the first one, book two definitely wasn’t fit to be sent anywhere. Nevertheless, my agent asked me to send it to her – maybe it wasn’t as raw as I thought it was. A couple of weeks later she told me I was right, the book shouldn’t go anywhere without multiple rewrites and we didn’t have time for that. So I put together a synopsis, which my agent rejected three times before we had something she was happy to send on. And then we waited – and waited – and waited. By the time the rejection landed it was pretty much expected. Had it been a yes we’d have heard virtually straight away. I don’t know what effect that had on my agent, but it certainly deflated me. When I spoke to her she said that had she submitted Vlad a couple of years earlier we would definitely have had offers almost immediately, but recession and a change in the way publishers regarded debut authors had made it much harder to sell. Plus the fact that vampires were seen by many publishers as old hat –
apparently ghouls were the new vampires. She continued to do her best for Vlad and me, but obviously selling authors had to take precedence where her time was concerned. I have garnered a wonderful collection of personalised rejections from some of the top publishing houses in the UK, including many compliments on my writing style, sense of humour and ability to write exciting plots, none of which was enough to get that elusive deal. I went on to write half of another children’s novel, but my heart wasn’t really in it. However, I completed (and rewrote I don’t know how many times) a crime novel, which a lovely publisher has expressed interest in. As I’ve been there and done that (and destroyed the t-shirt) I’m not holding my breath waiting to hear if that book will get me that longed-for yes, we want to publish, please sign here. But yesterday I woke up feeling enthusiastic about writing for children for the first time in months and I read through the half-written ms. Before I knew what I was doing, my fingers were flying over the keyboard writing the next chapter. This one is written to appeal to young male readers. It’s a mix of Randall and Hopkirk (deceased) and Buffy (but without a vampire in sight – I’ve got that message loud and clear – vampires are dead, even deader than dead). You’d think after my experience of not getting a book deal with Vlad I’d give up, but the thing is, I’m a writer-holic and, like most addicts, I’m completely hooked.
Vlad had never known such hunger. Weak with longing, he was driven insane by the smell of the ripe flesh he held in his shaking hands. He let his fangs pierce the soft downy skin and sank to his knees. Nothing had ever tasted as wonderful as this; knowing it was forbidden added to the sensation. He closed his eyes and bit deeper, filling his mouth with the sweet fluid. The bedroom door flew open, hitting the stone wall with such force windows rattled, spiders scuttled back to their cobwebs and half the candles blew out. Aunt Valentyna towered above him, red eyes glaring, jet black hair standing on end, and ruby lips curled into a snarl. “I knew it!” she thundered. “I knew you were doing something disgusting. What exactly are you eating, you repulsive excuse for a child?” Vlad choked and dropped his feast, splattering flesh on the flagstone floor. “Well, I’m waiting. What is that?” his aunt demanded, touching the half-eaten peach with the pointed toe of her shoe before reaching down to pick it up. Excerpt from Vlad the Inhaler Illustration by Marcus Smith (age 5) Lorraine Mace is a columnist with Writing Magazine, a writing judge, a tutor for the Writers Bureau and winner of an international poetry award. www. lorrainemace.com
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Not the Oxford Literary Festival by Dan Holloway
ntil a few weeks ago, my day job involved spending a lot of time organising conferences. It taught me lots about putting together spreadsheets and how to get a good deal at hotels. But the main thing it taught me was that however well you prepare, something will go wrong at the last minute (the M6 closing down at midnight when you’re trying to ferry 50 academics from London to Manchester, anyone?). In this case the anticipated unanticipated crisis that occupied the whole of a weekend when I had a huge amount of other things I should have been doing started, as it always does, with a casual Facebook message. It was from our musician from the night. A lovely bloke called Jonathan, better known by the nom de guerre Rabid Gravy. Mr Gravy had sent me a simple enquiry about his PA system (I know what that is – good so far) and specifically his amp (I know what one of those is too – excellent!) and then a load of things I had no idea about (not to worry). And then the killer – “is this what I’ll have?” Say what? You know this is a bookstore, right? You don’t seriously mean that amongst that whole van-full of stuff you pitch up with you don’t have an, er, whatever one of those was? There are loads of hire shops in Oxford. You’ll find one. Er, this is a free gig. I have £23k of personal debt. I don’t do hire shops. I do have some mates in bands though. What was it you needed? What I got back was more stuff I didn’t understand. Not to worry. Copy and paste is my friend. I did understand one bit, though – 140 watts. I asked my wife what wattage her guitar amp was. 10, she informed me. OK, it’s a little one. But I wondered if 14 times might be a little on the large size for an intimate bookstore in a residential area. I put this to Mr Gravy. “I want it to be like everyone’s wearing their own set of headphones,” he told me. At which point I did the very naughty thing one always resorts to in these circumstances. I said yes, of course, I’ll sort it. And resolved to get what I thought was suitable. And work on the principle that once everything was in place it would all be OK. Which it was. Store owner and living legend Dennis dug out a bass amp that didn’t wake the neighbours, and Mr Gravy delivered a stunning set. There was a very good reason to ask Rabid to provide the music. He is one of my absolute
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favourite musicians, and his brand of incredibly clever electronica perfectly embodies what the festival is about. He even paid tribute to the venue with a sample of Kerouac reading. There were no such troubles with the readers. Even though one, Renée Sigel, had come all the way from Italy. But there are other issues with running a night like this. The main stems from being a victim of our own success, dahling! We had a massive line-up. And only two of our fabulous cast, Anna Hobson and Lucy Ayrton, were based in Oxford. Which meant, particularly with our headliner Penny Goring (whose stunning collection The Zoom Zoom I’m publishing in June), this was also a catch up with friends I hadn’t seen for a while. And in the case of Helen Smith and Renée, it was the first time I’d met them at all (like most of my live shows, getting the cast of characters together had been done almost entirely through twitter). Which puts you in a rather delicate position. You want to chat to everyone. You want to give everyone all your time. I felt like one of those vicars from a sit com who smiles, hugs, air kisses (wait, do vicars do air kisses?) listens deeply for 5 minutes then has to move on. It’s a shame. I’m an interminable natterer, so having to terminate natterings comes unnaturally to me. Fortunately the usual worry (will anybody show) never materialised. We had a steady flow of people for an hour before the show, and by the time we were underway there was a crowd of around 50 slotted in between the shelves and Rabid’s wiring. And then we began. And in a flash of women who turn into aubergines, dodgy student parties, slamming naughty schoolgirls and electronica a sparkling night was done and we disappeared, pumped full of adrenalin and inspiration, into the Oxford night. Or, at least, we humped Rabid’s keyboards back into the boot of his car.
Attending the Festival, by Catriona Troth
his was the second year that I attended the Not the Oxford Literary Festival. Last year, I spent the afternoon checking out the gracious marquees in the grounds of Christchurch College that housed the official Oxford Literary Festival, and so arrived at its rival event relaxed
Not the Oxford Literary Festival at the Albion Beatnik Bookstore is now in its second year. Free and taking place during Oxford Literary Festival, it was set up to showcase the underground and unusual as an antidote to the homogeneity and priciness of many modern literary festivals. Dan Holloway’s performance pieces are available in the book (life:) razorblades included, for 70p on Kindle and £5 as a paperback. His show The New Libertines will be at Stoke Newington Literary Festival on June 4th and Oxfringe on June 13th, Dan’s new novel The Company of Fellows has now been in the UK Kindle top 100 thrillers for 7 weeks.
and in good order. This year, I left home at the last minute, got lost in Oxford’s rush hour traffic, ended up driving up a street I had no business to be on and arrived, eventually, late, flustered and more than half convinced I had just earned myself a ticket. Fortunately, The Albion Beatnik is as funky and laid back a bookstore as you could hope to find. As I squeezed through the doors, people were perched on chairs and sofas, squatting on the floor or just standing wherever they could find room. A half moon of floor space was left for the performers, who took turns reading their work. Coffee was served in your choice of bone china espresso cup or –if you didn’t have a car and an errant GPS to worry about – there was wine too. The billing for the festival had told me, ‘New Libertinism is a celebration of light in dark corners, desire in the desire in the face of boredom, despair hidden beneath the underskirts of affluence – of everything it means to be human.’ This year’s line up was dominated by poets, with only one prose writer included in the mix. Each contributor was up twice, with the music (or should I say
‘alternative to music?’) being provided after each half by Rabid Gravy. The headline act was Penny Goring, ‘the woman who fell to pieces’. On her blog, she describes herself as ‘likes = swearing and smoking; dislikes = almost everything else in the whole wide world, especially travel.’ A commenter on the blog describes her first choice of poem, Many Morning, as ‘the post modern nervous breakdown we are all trying to get inside’. Her performance felt edgy and angular – designed perhaps as much to keep the audience at a distance as to let them in. By contrast, the slam poet, Lucy Ayrton gave us two deceptively childlike and very funny poems that, to begin with, you might think had come from the pen of Edward Lear or AA Milne. It was only as they build to their climax that you realised that their innocent surface concealed something altogether more deadly. Helen Smith is the author of books including Alison Wonderland and The Miracle Inspector. I am delighted to say that you can listen to her surreally funny story ‘Aubergine’ on the Words with Jam podcast.
Renee Sigel is a South African poet currently based in Italy. She works in collaboration with the painter Jerry Shawback, whose paintings and sketches inspire poetic improvisations: The Shawback Redemptions . The result is lyrical and vivid with sensual imagery. Anna Hobson is another poet whose work is deceptively light but carries a sting in its tail. You can read her poem, A Tale of Modern Courtship on her blog, Make Words Not War. And of course, let us not forget our own Dan Holloway, himself a key member of the New Libertines. Dan – with his beard and his mane of hair, and his trademark fingerless glove of red mesh – cuts an instantly recognisable figure. His starkly uncompromising poetry can be found on the Year Zero website. It was a long drive home and the GPS didn’t behave much better in reverse – but with my mind buzzing with sounds and images, that didn’t seem so important any more.
Photography Copyright © Ben Nicholson http://aquaman84.wordpress.com
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Book v Film: Where the Wild Things Are by Gillian Hamer Book Synopsis Maurice Sendak’s classic 1963 children’s story, sees a mischievous young boy called Max sent to his bedroom without his supper. In his room, a mysterious world grows from his imagination, and Max sails to the land of the Wild Things. Max conquers the ferocious creatures he finds in this world by staring into their yellow eyes and not blinking – and Max becomes ruler of their world. Soon though, he becomes lonely and homesick and returns to the real world to find his supper waiting for him still hot.
Film Synopsis Max is a young boy who throws tantrums if he can’t have his own way. Following an incident with his sister’s friends, he flies into a rage when he becomes jealous of his mother spending time with her new boyfriend. After physically attacking his mother, he runs away from home wearing his wolf costume. Max heads towards the imaginary world in his head where stories run wild. He sails across an ocean to a world of wild creatures, one named Carol who seems a mirror-image of Max’s own personality. Instead of eating Max, the creatures believe in his claims of superpowers and make him King, turning to him to solve all of their problems. When he proves unable to do so … things in Max’s imaginary world become difficult. After a huge battle of wills, Max is set sail from the island, to the distress of Carol. The homecoming scene with his mother leaves not a dry eye in the cinema.
Summary So … original or adaptation. Which wins? For me, the book will always be a classic. But the 2009 film adaptation really modernises the story and examines the layers I believe Sendak always intended, but were never really investigated to their full potential. There’s one line from Max in the film for me that sums up what I see as the message of the whole story – ‘It’s hard being a family.’
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This is the lesson Max learns in his imaginary world. Whether he realises Carol is a replica of himself, I’m not sure. But he quickly learns the lesson that being a ruler of anything – family or kingdom – is no easy task. He realises at the same time as he becomes homesick, just how difficult a job his own mother had in keeping all of her family happy and safe. The scene at the end where he arrives home to the forgiveness and love of his mother is wonderfully portrayed. The opening to the film also grips in a way the book failed to do. The film starts mid-Max-tantrum as he races around the house in his wolf costume and I actually found the first scenes quite disturbing! I also like the way the film adaptation modernises the story. No longer is going to bed without supper a suitable punishment – this time a young boy explodes with rage because his mother has a new boyfriend. How accurate and fitting for this generation of children, many of whom must be able to
relate to the scenarios touched on in the film. I also loved how the creatures were given distinctive personalities in the film (not to mention the brilliant voice of James Gandolfini as Carol) and how each creature grew into an extension of Max’s family. I particularly warmed to KW and Douglas who tried to help Max in ways uncles and aunts of any extended family would do. The interaction in the film made it easier to understand how disputes and unhappiness so easily spread within any family. It also showed Max that he was nowhere near ready to leave the security of his own home and the strength of his real family. So, while the picture book will always hold many memories for me of scary voices and lessons to be learned – the film has taken the story to another level in exploring the layers behind Sendak’s words and illustrations.
So … Book 0 – Film 1
Strap Lines and Strap Marks by Derek Duggan
E-book sales continue to climb and, for the first time, self publishing isn’t mostly about some oddball with a hat and a bag full of photocopied tat approaching you in the pub and asking if you’re interested in poetry. Now you actually stand a chance of selling your book directly to the public at large without the need of outlandish headwear or risking a punch in the face. But putting it for sale on Amazon or wherever is one thing, actually getting people to look at it and then make a purchase is something else entirely. The traditional route, while having no guarantees, was, at least, market orientated – you essentially sold it to an agent – they used their contacts and sold it to a publisher – the publisher sold it to the shops – and they, in turn, sold it to the general public. Now, thanks to the advent of e-publishing, you can bypass all the middle men and go directly to an online retailer and flog your wares. Well done you. But by cutting out the middle men, have you also cut out the marketing that lets Joe Public know about your book in the first place? And how much do you need to know about marketing if you want to make your book a success? Marketing and advertising are absolutely necessary. Without it you wouldn’t know just how bad you smell, how terrible your skin is and how your normal coloured teeth mark you out to the world as nothing but a dirty unattractive loser who is one of the 97% of people over forty who piss their pants, have erectile dysfunction, are unable
to spell ‘market’, haven’t made provision to pay for their own funeral, and only stands a chance of meeting someone on one of the many dating sites for people who ‘…like old movies…’ And if you’re not watching in HD 3D then you may as well throw in the towel and admit that you’re just one step above being a tramp. Without marketing how would you know that only those who sleep under bridges in a puddle of their own piss would have a telephone that simply lets you talk to other people? Let’s not forget that they’re called Smart phones because you must be thick as a pint of man batter not to want to queue up overnight to get the new version the second it comes out. But what are they selling us? It’s not really the product, is it? Who needs an i-pad? Even the television commercials can’t show it being used for something worth handing over a big wad of cash for. The first TV ad showed someone fluting around looking at pictures of the night sky (which you can do for free just by looking out the window at night, surprisingly) and the current advertisement for the mark II version basically just says this one’s better than the original. This is the sort of mindset you’ll have to deal with. When it comes to selling your book, unless you’re extremely lucky, you’ll have to decide on a marketing strategy if you want to shift it in any meaningful volume. And even if you get that right, remember that for all their experience and marketing departments and so on, traditional publishers often don’t help a book reach its full marketing potential. Many very good and well written books never sell in the volume they deserve while tons of volumes of spunk custard fly off the shelves. However, marketing can be tricky. It’s no problem to stick a link up to your selfpublished tome on facebook, but unless you’re going to throw a few bob and some considerable time into it you may as well just bite the bullet, buy a hat, and pass your manuscript around to your mates down the pub and charge them a quid to read it. Unless you end up with the holy grail of all campaigns – the word of mouth success. Of
course, the first you often hear of a word of mouth success is when it’s reported in the media that a book has, indeed, been a great word of mouth success, thus negating the word of mouth-ness of it, unless by word of mouth you really mean word of the press. Then you can ask people the following day if they’ve heard about this great word of mouth success story and before you know it, everyone is actually talking about it. But are they talking about the phenomenon or are they talking about the actual bloody book? So, does this mean that you have to create a buzz about the novel itself, or do you want to get people to talk about the fact that everyone is supposedly talking about it? And how do you get people to talk about it in the first place? Should you just get all your mates to put up five star reviews on Amazon? Will that do the trick? Well, there’s no discussion if everyone just says it’s great. And when you click on a book that only has five reviews and they are all top marks you always think – bet they’re all from the author’s mates – thus negating anything positive they might have written. But you don’t want to ask them to put some slightly negative reviews in there either, especially seeing as your book is so good, in case it puts people off. At this point feel free to let your head explode. This is what you’re up against. But don’t let that put you off. After all, the third best selling series of books of all time (after Harry Potter and Goosebumps) are Perry Mason books with reported sales of 300 million. That’s right, Jessica Fletcher’s dad (allegedly), Perry fucking Mason. If they can do it, so can you. What are you waiting for? Hit that publish button.
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Lone Author at the London Book Fair by Catriona Troth
The last thing I expected to see, as I walked into Earl’s Court for the London Book Fair, was a bearded monk in a long black robe. There seemed to be several about the place, though, and as far as I could tell, they weren’t part of a publicity stunt. It wasn’t until I got as far as the large Russian Pavillion that I solved the mystery. Russia were the guests of honour at this year’s Fair, and one of the speakers was Metropolitan Ilarion of Volokolamsk, head of external church relations for the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, who had brought with him a large contingent of Orthodox priests and monks. Less surprising, perhaps, was the gaudily dressed stilt walker who handed me a leaflet a short while later. She and other circus performers were promoting The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern. “The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not,” the leaflets said, reminding me of the opening to Darren Shan’s Cirque du Freak. Don’t be fooled, though: The Night Circus is not a YA novel. It certainly sounds like one to look out for, as the film rights have been bought even before the book has been published. The London Book Fair is a pretty overwhelming experience for the uninitiated.
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The vast stalls of the big publishing houses are crowded with people holding earnest conversations in twos and threes. But if you are not part of this arcane world, then they are essentially advertising space for the publishers’ most highly promoted books. And as for those agents you might long to corner and impress with that carefully honed ‘elevator pitch’, they are secreted away in the International Rights Centre, where admission is by appointment only. Yet look a little further and there is plenty to enjoy. Dotted around the Fair are theatres and speaking areas, each of which has their own programme of seminars and interviews. The Children’s Zone, the Author Lounge, the Digital Zone, the Translation Centre, The English Pen Literary Café: the programme is so crowded that it is impossible to see everything you might be interested in. I missed a fascinating-sounding panel discussion in the Translation Centre because it clashed with another seminar - not to mention a firebrand talk on libraries from campaigners Tim Coates and Alan Gibbons which sadly took place the day after I visited the Fair. The smaller stalls around the fringes can be fascinating too. Having previously written about e-books, I was intrigued by a couple of gems I found in the Digital Zone. 24 Symbols: Billed as the ‘Spotify of Reading’, this is a Spanish-based web-service (currently in beta) which stores ebooks ‘in the cloud’ and allows users to read them across a whole range of devices. You can choose the ‘freemium’ service, with slightly limited functionality and some advertising, or the ‘premium’ which, for a monthly
If you would like to read more about the London Book Fair and catch up on events I have been unable to cover, take a look at the London Book Fair issue of Publishing Perspectives, at Book Brunch’s London Fair Dealer and at the Bookseller Daily. The Bookseller also provides a ‘rights round-up’ of key deals concluded at the Fair.
subscription, gives you full functionality and had closed a deal with Amazon to include in this edition). The much vaunted new no adverts. 24symbols has been designed as ebooks in Kindle format in their offering to Children’s Innovation Zone, though, I found a social media site too, encouraging users libraries. very disappointing. Maybe my timing was to share quotes and recommendations with Surprisingly, it is actually possible off but though I returned several times in their friends. As for the business the course of the day, I only ever th model, publishers and authors seemed to find it being used as 40 Anniversary will earn 70% of the site’s income, a much-needed respite for the shared pro rata according to how footsore and exhausted. When what was to become the LBF much their books are read. began, in 1971, it had just 22 exhibitors, Read and Note: On the way Author Lounge – to the Fair, I read a piece from selling titles to librarians in a small hotel Marketing Your Book literary agent, Andrew Nurnberg, off Oxford Street. By 1975, when it was Sitting cross-legged on the floor in Publishing Perspectives in which of the small but crowded Author first christened the London Book Fair, he said that he’d rushed out and Lounge, I attended a seminar bought a Sony eReader when it had expanded to 140 exhibitors and on ‘Marketing Your Book’, given they first came out, but quickly by Gareth Howard, CEO of attracted 1000 visitors, but it was still very reverted to tried-and-tested hard authoright.com. copy when he realised he still much the baby brother of the Book Fair Howard began by quoting some needed to scribble notes in the market research done by a major world. Publishers typically held talks at margins of manuscripts. Read and publisher, which showed that over Note, another innovative cloudLondon about deals they would conclude 90% of authors believed that the based e-reading platform, seems biggest advantage that a traditional a few weeks later at Frankfurt. That all tailor-made to respond to this publishing deal would bring them complaint. Read and Note allows changed in 1982, when the LBF was shifted was ‘discoverability’ – the benefits readers to make annotations on an of intelligent, strategic marketing. to the Spring. Since then it has grown ebook – not just text, but pictures, The publishers were baffled. ‘But audio, video – and then share year on year. The 2011 Fair boasted 1500 that’s not what we do,’ they said. those annotations either publicly So where does this exhibitors and welcomed more than 23 (via social media) or privately via misunderstanding lie? Well, in workgroups. Read and Note allows thousand visitors. part, he said, in the distinction you to read in full colour, with all between marketing and distribution. illustrations intact. And unlike a Distribution is about getting books for small indie houses and self-published lot of ereaders, it also allows you to maintain into bookstores, getting them displayed front authors to get their books into the Fair. For the original pagination, so you don’t have of store. Traditional publishers pay – a lot – those who cannot afford their own stand, the frustration you find with the Kindle of to make these things happen. This is where £125 earns the inclusion of their book in having no common point of reference with a a big part of the budget for a new book will the New Title Showcase. Their book will be friend reading the same book in print. The go, and it simply isn’t available to those who prominently displayed in a special exhibit Bodleian Library in Oxford is piloting Read self publish. at the Fair, and included in the New Title and Note as a way for students and staff to Marketing, on the other hand, is about Showcase Directory. annotate books from the library’s collections getting books into the media. For the vast as they are digitised. Children’s books are given their own area majority of their books, publishers have in the Fair (though Young Adult books seem I also visited the stand for Overdrive, no budget for marketing and don’t see it to be bundled with adult literature on the the American company that supplies ebooks as their role. And the proportion of books for libraries in both the US and the UK. main stands). I have written up the excellent that benefit from what marketing budget But though I chatted with them for quite a seminar I attended in the Children’s Zone remains, is shrinking. Only 1% of books Theatre elsewhere (see ‘Nurturing the long time, I completely failed to scoop the published receive any media coverage at all. Readers and Writers of Tomorrow’ later news (announced a few days later) that they So what can an author do to fill this gap?
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A few years ago, the choice was probably between a home-made leafleting campaign in your local area – or a vast professional PR campaign that could cost as much as £10k. To some extent, social media has changed that landscape. Nowadays, even traditional publishers will look at a new author and ask what sort of online profile have they got? So, from an author’s point of view, the answer is to think about marketing as early as possible. What audience is the book aimed at? (It is important at this stage to think specific, not general.) How can that audience be reached? Websites, Facebook pages, Twitter, can all be harnessed. Authors can use these to talk about the issues addressed in the book, introduce characters and key into anniversaries and news events that relate to the book’s content. Online reviewers often now have a very loyal following, and can be powerfully influential, particularly in specific genres. A new area for marketing is the development of apps. This doesn’t necessarily mean bringing your book out as an ebook – or even an enhanced ebook. An app might be given away for free, and might include a teaser for the book, a video interview with the author etc. In terms of print media, Authoright prefers to get its authors written about in news and features than in reviews. Reviews, after all, are generally read by a niche audience, whereas the news pages reach a far wider public. However much an author does themselves, it remains very difficult for an author to get their book into the media on their own. Not only is it immensely time consuming to build up the contacts, chase them up, pester until something actually happens – for authors , there is a Catch 22. Even though few
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authors are given any marketing support, the response from many journalists to a direct approach is to say, ‘If this book were any good, why would the author have to plug it themselves?’ If you want to hear more about what Gareth Howard has to say, this interview on YouTube was recorded at the 2010 London Book Fair.
English Pen Literary Café – Margie Orford Passing through the cluster of little theatres and speaking areas in the centre of Earls Court 2, I stumbled on an interview with the South African crime writer, Margie Orford. Now, I have to admit that I had never heard of this author, but the very first words I heard her speak drew me into the English Pen Literary Café and for the next half hour I was held, riveted, listening to her. I came away determined to track down her books and read one. As a young woman, Orford became involved in mass student protests against the last convulsions of Apartheid. She was arrested and detained under the State of Emergency – charges that could lead to death by hanging. She wrote her final university exams in prison Why did she think, the interviewer asked, that there was no tradition of crime writing in South Africa before the fall of Apartheid? “Before the fall of Apartheid we existed in the most morally unambiguous state. You had to take sides, because to be neutral was to prop up the regime. And there was no need for crime fiction because it was all around us. Our legal system was a crime fiction. “But since the fall of Apartheid, we are in one of the most morally ambiguous states. The era of grand narrative is
over. Crime fiction is a way of exploring this society and the impulse to violence that it seems unable to escape.” She didn’t set out to write crime fiction, she says. But when she was looking for a way of writing about this profoundly unequal society, she realised that the only types of people who could move through all strata of society were journalists and the police. So she created her heroine, Dr Clare Hunt. She was asked about the inspiration behind her male second lead, the policeman Faisal Riedwaan. “The cop who arrested me was a Muslim. One of the ironies of the regime was that one of the few avenues open to so-called ‘coloureds’ was the police. Terrified as I was, I could see in his face that he was caught in an intolerable situation. Plus he bought me two cans of coke and a packet of Camels. He was the germ behind Faisal.” One of the remarkable things about Margie Orford is that, despite finding prison so disturbing that she was unable to eat (she threw up everything she tried to swallow), she has returned there more than once to run writing workshops for some of South Africa’s most violent convicted criminals. “My impulse is always to look at what I fear most.” Going back into the prison, she said, awoke a physical empathy with these men who ‘couldn’t even decide when to go to the toilet.’ Working with them in the creative writing workshops enabled her to understand how they had got to the point they had. Would she ever write anything other than crime fiction? Oh, yes. She had perhaps four books in mind. But if you begin writing a book series, you find yourself caught up in a marketing machine that demands to be fed more and more books until the series ends. So how would she know when the series ended? “It will end in a picket fence. I’m really writing an extended love story. But I hate shopping, so I fill in the gaps with crime instead,” If you would like to learn more about Margie Orford, read the extraordinarily beautiful account, from the Guardian, 16th May, 2010’, of the writing workshop she ran for maximum security prisoners in South Africa’s Victor Verster prison .
Nurturing the Readers (and Writers) of Tomorrow by Catriona Troth, the Library Cat
ow did we get to be so good at saying one thing and doing another? Recently, research from Oxford University (based on the British Cohort longitudinal study of every child in England, Scotland and Wales born during one week in April 1970) showed that reading was the only out of school activity linked to the chances of getting a managerial or professional job later in life. Around the same time, the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, was exhorting schoolaged children to read at least a book a week. I did a rough calculation based on the prices on Amazon – probably as cheap a source as you are likely to find for a wide variety of children’s books. Searching a range of well known authors reveals that the cheapest available children’s picture books come in at around £3. More typically, prices are around £4 or £5. Books for
older children and teens are no cheaper, so you’re unlikely to supply your child with a book a week for under £200 a year. Multiply this by a family of two or three, and it quickly becomes clear why children’s borrowing has been a consistent growth area for libraries for many years. Yet around the country, libraries are being closed. (According to the blog, Public Library News, 451 are currently under threat of closure in 2011; seven have actually closed or left local council control since 1st April this year, with more expected to follow once the local elections are out
of the way.) The number of professional librarians – who have the training to help you choose the books that are right for your child – is being cut back. Funding for programmes like Bookstart is being squeezed and the loss of professional librarians makes schemes like the Reading Agency’s Summer Reading Challenge – in which three quarters of a million 5-11 year olds are challenged to read at least six library books over the summer holidays – harder to run. Does any of that really matter?
Booktrust – Bookgifting Programmes for All 6th to 12th June this year is National Bookstart Week, an annual celebration of stories, songs and rhymes. But unless you have children under 14, you might not have heard of Bookstart. The Bookstart Scheme, run by the charity Booktrust, began in Birmingham in 1992 as a pilot project involving 300 babies. From that seed, it has grown into a national scheme, giving free books and other materials to babies, toddlers and their families at three stages before the children start school. The details of the scheme vary slightly from area to area, but generally speaking, when the health visitor carries out eight month, eighteen month and three year checks, they put a sticker on a special page in the child’s red Health Record book. Parents can then take the book to their local library, where they will be given one of the book packs: Bookstart Baby Pack for children up to 12 months, Bookstart+ aimed at toddlers, and My Bookstart Treasure Chest for 3 to 4-year-olds. There are even special packs (called Bookshine and Booktouch) designed for children who are deaf or blind. Booktrust also promotes library membership, through its Bookcrawl scheme. Children can earn stickers every time they visit the library, and once they have five stickers, they receive one of a collection of certificates designed by well known children’s illustrators, like Tony Ross. Since 2004, Bookstart has been partly funded by the government, which has enabled universal provision of free books to every child. In 2007/8, Booktrust launched two more schemes: Booktime, which gives a book pack to children
The Letterbox Club
As well as these universal gifting schemes, the Booktrust also runs the Letterbox Club. The Letterbox Club is targeted at foster children aged 7-13. Every six months, they are sent a parcel of books and activities, addressed specifically to them. The Books include, for example, Michael Rosen’s The Sad Book, a deeply personal picture book about the death of his own son, and one which helps children to talk about their own losses and bereavements.
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starting primary school for the first time, and Booked Up, which allows children moving up into secondary school to choose from a selection of free books. Today, 20% of funding for Bookstart comes from government and 80% from sponsorship by 25 children’s publishers. Last December, Booktrust was told that it would lose all of its £13 million annual funding from government. In the event, that decision was modified and the charity has now been told that it will receive £7 million in 2011 and £6 million in 2012. This level of funding has enabled Booktrust to maintain most of its universal book gifting schemes. The exception is the Bookstart+ programme, which will now be targeted specifically at more disadvantaged families, through Sure Start programmes. From the early days of the pilot project, Professor Barry Wade and Dr Maggie Moore carried out a longitudinal study of the children involved. They found that Bookstart children are not only better prepared for starting school, but maintain their head start throughout their first years of primary education. Vanessa Pontin, whose son is now 15 months old, thinks the scheme is a great idea. “I’d been reading books with my son practically from the day he was born. I was afraid the ones in the pack might be a bit tacky, but I was impressed. It was great to be given books that I could be sure were suitable for his age. He responded very well to them and we continue to read together every night. Bookstart is a fantastic initiative and a wonderful way to encourage a love of books in children.”
What Is a Reader? One reason why schemes like these are so important is that they make reading a normal part of every child’s life. While at the London Book Fair, I attended a panel discussion in the Children’s Zone entitled Sounding It Out: Learning to Read and Love Reading, chaired by Fiona Collins of Roehampton University, with children’s author Tony Bradman, Andrea Quincey from Oxford University Press, and Louise Chadwick of Booktrust. One of the first questions posed was, what is a reader? All four agreed that reading is more than simply learning to decode text. Phonics is a key skill, but taking pleasure in reading for its own sake goes well beyond that. Something that was returned to again and again was the importance of allowing children to identify themselves as readers. This means, in part, not imposing adult judgements about ‘good’
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reading choices. Rivers of Reading, for example, is a project that allows children to record absolutely everything they read over a week – not just stories and books but cereal packets, timetables, instructions for computer games. The aim is to show that they are ALL readers – not just those who have their noses in the latest Carnegie Medal winner. Tony Bradman is a lead author for Project X, a reading programme from OUP designed specifically to hook boys into reading. It includes fiction and non-fiction, and spans a range of both age and reading ability. Boys love action and adventure, he says, yet they can also be very emotional. But they engage in those issues through
“We are at a tipping point for public libraries and school libraries,” Bradman said. “They are a vital thread in our cultural life. I feel quite revolutionary about this. I want to see the barricades go up in Downing Street. The next year or two could be critical.”
stories about friendship and power struggles. “There is a real challenge in writing a 200 word story that can engage a 12 year old boy still struggling with reading.” Another recurring theme was the importance of poetry in engaging children. As the tagline for Bookstart’s Rhyme Challenge says, ‘Great rhymers make great readers.’ Even very young children can recognise that cat rhymes with mat. And because rhyming words often share spelling, children who are tuned into rhymes have a head start when they begin to read. As Andrea Quincey pointed out, boys are often attracted to the rules and structure of poetry. They love to make up raps, or alphabet poems. And they like the fact that poetry can be based on street language. Louise Chadwick reminded us that many libraries used to provide Story Time for pre-school children. With the increased provision of nursery education, this role has shifted to Early Years centres, and its place has been taken by Rhyme Time for babies and toddlers. All the panel agreed that libraries have a vital role developing literacy in children.
called Everybody Writes. The four principles behind Everybody Writes are: • Take writing beyond the classroom
Turning Readers into Writers But it’s not just about encouraging the readers of tomorrow. As writers ourselves, we should take a special interest in nurturing the writers that will, one day, excite a whole new generation of children. Another scheme, supported by Booktrust and the National Literacy Trust, is
• Give children authentic events to write about • Find real audiences for children’s writing • Explore writing across the curriculum This approach is wholeheartedly endorsed by Patricia Gilbey, a Suffolk teacher, who has seen for herself how being immersed in an experience brings out the best in children’s writing. Once, having read Kevin CrossleyHolland’s story, Gatty’s Tale, about nine pilgrims setting journeying to Jerusalem in the 13th Century, her pupils set out on a ‘pilgrimage’ of their own. They worked first on their own characters – priest, farmer and so on. Then they walked several miles across fields, playing flutes and recorders and drums, stopping in a barn and being treated to drinks by the people in the ‘manor house’ and dancing for them, then watching the shepherd shear his sheep and take the fleece down the river in a coracle, and finally
arriving at a church with medieval paintings of St Francis. But children have extremely powerful imaginations, so not all experiences that trigger writing projects have to be ‘real’. Before writing poems about lions hunting impala, they ‘sat’ together in the basket of a hot air balloon and ‘flew’ over the Serengeti, imagining what they could see. These exercises will almost always relate to a topic the class is working on, so they fit in with other learning rather than sitting in isolation. Gilbey also agrees that the trick is to make children aware of their readers, and hence to see a need for their writing. One of her pupils talked about ‘grabbing your readers’ eyeballs and gluing them to the page’ – a phrase which stuck with her.
Losing Our Way in the Tin Forest There was once a wide, windswept place, near nowhere and close to forgotten that was filled with all the things that no one wanted... So begins Helen Ward’s poetic story, The Tin Forest. But deep in the forest lives an old man who tidies this rubbish and builds a forest out of tin, where birds and animals come to live. After reading the story in class, this is what
nine-year old Ellie said she wanted to have in her tin forest:
‘A box holding snowflakes from the beginning of the world, A balloon that was let go and travelled every world, A complicated, calculating cat, Water in a cup, upside down, A twilight, twisted twamanazzer.’ For other samples of wonderful writing by young people, take a look at www.alangibbons.net. As these examples show, children often have an originality of phrase that few adult writers can match. For a lot of young people, somewhere along the line, that originality is stifled. Philip Pullman, writing in the Times Educational Supplement in 2002, laid at least some of the blame on the strictures of the national curriculum. He recalls flinching in horror when a student teacher asked for his advice on how to help Key Stage 2 children who were expected to ‘plan a story for 15 minutes then write it for 45 minutes’, and asks where in all this is: ...the joy of discovery, the thrill we feel when an idea strikes that might become a story… If that joy isn’t nourishing the roots of the work, it’s never going to show in the flower. That truly is basic. I’m all for the basics.
There was once a wide, windswept place, near nowhere and close to forgotten that was filled with all the things that no one wanted...
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Three short stories (up to 10,000 words in total) £59 Up to 20,000 words of a novel, novella, or non-fiction work £69 A full length work, (fiction, biography etc) up to 100,000 words £99 Your work will be read carefully and thoroughly, and you will be given detailed editorial advice. After this, you will be given time to read through and digest these comments, and have the opportunity to resubmit a second draught for final guidance and critique. It is in all our interests to be as honest and conscientious as possible, our primary aim being to nurture and direct new writers in their chosen field, and give them the confidence to continue writing to the best of their abilities
Sending Books via Pelican Post by Catriona Troth
Imagine if you couldn’t take for granted having a class set of books to read together. Imagine if none of the books you had reflected the lives of the children in the class. Imagine having no books in your school at all… This is what Nick Johnson found, years ago, working on an Operation Raleigh project in Uganda. The idea for Pelican Post was born then, though it took a long time to come to fruition. Around that time, he met Anita Roddick who, with her capacity to see right to the heart of a problem, told him, ‘Your biggest issues will be shipping and storage.’ It took the Internet and the growth of social media to show Johnson the way round that problem. Get people to send the books themselves. Directly. Unlike larger charities such as Book Aid International, Pelican Post doesn’t send books in bulk. Currently, it supports 14 schools in 6 African countries, and aims to provide them with class sets of books from a carefully selected list of stories that reflect those children’s lives. Books like Journey to Jo’burg by Beverley Naidoo, or A is for Africa by Ifeoma Onyefulu. How important exposure to books like these can be was powerfully brought home to me a few months ago, in an interview Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave to the BBC World Service’s World Book Club. ‘Until I was maybe nine, I didn’t know it was okay to write about people like me. All the books I was reading had white people in them… If I hadn’t read [Nigerian writer] Chinua Achebe, I don’t know how messed up I would be in my head about the worth of one’s own story.” Quite recently, a Nigerian girl had written to her, saying much the same thing about her own book, Purple Hibiscus. “I really hope that one day we can get to the point… when young people don’t need to question their own stories any more.”
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Pelican Post (which is currently in the final stages of receiving formal charitable status) began simply as a website. People could register, choose a country and a school that they wished to support, select a book from the list and then pledge to buy and send the book. And once the book was sent, they could log back in to confirm the details. Pledges come from all over the world – more than one thousand donors to date from as far afield as Canada, Australia and Japan. And those donors all get feedback from the children who receive their books. This initial format remains, but eighteen months in and the idea is taking off in other directions too. Pelican Post has held events in Waterstone’s, where customers buy books, put their own messages inside, and Pelican Post sends off the books for them. They’ve run projects with primary schools in the UK too, where classes raise money to buy a set of books. The children read the books, learn about life in the country they have chosen to support, then make bookmarks to go with the books to Africa. Children in the recipient school then make bookmarks to send back to the donor children. This summer, Pelican Post will be at Camp Bestival, where children will be able to buy two copies of their chosen book – one for themselves and one to send to Africa. Again, they will be able to write their own special message in the donated book. Access to books is something most of us take for granted. As writers, we find reading comes as easily as breathing. It’s easy to forget how precious books can be to those that have never had them. If you feel you would like to support Pelican Post’s activities, or if you have contacts with schools or charities in Africa that might like to be involved, please get in touch via their website: www.pelican-post.org.
“Pelican Post is not just about posting a single book but about leaving a legacy that will inspire countless generations of children to learn to read.” - Lenny Henry
The Rumour Mill sorting the bags of truth from the bags of shite
Heard a rumour but you’re not sure if it’s a bag of truth or just a big bag of shite? Send it to us and we’ll get our top investigative journalist Kris Dangle to look into it for you. Someone at a bus stop told me that a good way to pick up flagging sales of self published books is to try rebranding it, perhaps by changing the name. Is this true? I’ve come across this one before and its success rate is at best fifty-fifty. Just think of the disastrous results the Mujahideen had with this. They changed their name to the Taliban and lost all their funding and training from best pals the United States of America. So think carefully before changing anything. There’s a rumour going around facebook that if you don’t copy and paste stuff from your friends status about diseases or being gay or whatever, you don’t care. Could this really be the case?
Poetry & Writing Courses In France
Chateau Ventenac is delighted to announce new writing courses & retreat weeks for 2011 Tutors include Sean O’Brien, Pascale Petit, Maurice Riordan, Penny Shuttle and novelist Patrick Gale.
There are some interesting statistics about this rumour. 99% of people couldn’t give a shit, but about 8% can be guilt tripped into posting something vaguely embarrassing. But the most important stat concerning this type of thing is that these status posts are 100% ineffective – if people really gave a fuck about the various causes they’d be out doing something about it and not just posting chain status’s. I heard on Twitter that someone has taken a super injunction out against using the word ‘cunt’ on this page. Is this the end of an era? Glad to say that this one is unfounded. We are still free to fling cunts about with reckless abandon. Is it true that Cheryl Cole lost a bet and that’s why she has the fucking horrible hairstyle now in America? I can’t find anything to back this rumour up, or the rumour that she doesn’t have a mirror. I’m still chasing down exactly what she was storing in her cheeks during last years X Factor as it turned out not to be a pint of Simon’s sex wee. A woman who went to a University said JK Rowling has enough money to air condition Hell. She’s been to University, so this must be true. I’ve phoned a few air conditioning companies and I’m still waiting for them to come back to me with quotes so I’m unable to confirm or deny this one. However, as the lady who told you this has been to a University it’s probably true. People with that sort of education never make mistakes about money – just look at all those university graduates in the banking sector.
Inspiring location, wonderful views, great food. We look after you whilst you relax and write. www.chateauventenac. com/courses email: firstname.lastname@example.org Call: +44(0)7773206344
The Quiet Coach
The Quiet Coach
by Stephanie Barton About Steph Steph Barton lives in Manchester where, once upon a time, she studied Religions and Theology and neglected to plan for the future. After eighteen months counting beer-soaked small change for a living, she eventually surrendered to genetic fate and went to work for a bank - where the Student Loans Company inevitably caught up with her. The money she counts still isn’t hers, but at least now it’s mostly imaginary. The Quiet Coach is her first published story.
34 | Quite Small Stories
London to Hastings, 14:42 Brilliant sunshine. Stone Roses. Liam was slipping away from me, I could tell. “When you go out in fancy dress why don’t you ever choose anything sexy?” I wasn’t aware that was the point of fancy dress. “You’re allowed to look like a dick,” I pointed out. “Why can’t I?” Then for some reason, of course, it escalated and once it was over neither of us could remember why. I spent the rest of the evening trying to make a Thunderbirds uniform look vaguely sexy. He sniffed my hair and dragged me to bed, holding me close and nearly starting the whole damn thing off again. “I just wish you’d make more of an effort sometimes.” International Rescue never had to put up with this crap. There was this girl on the train when I boarded, leaning up against the window in the leafy sunlight. She had an air of long grass and love songs about her. I sat opposite, beside a man in a suit who smelled of Wotsits. He played uncertainly with his iPod. The girl gave me a glare and twitched her hessian carrier away from my leather shoes. Inside I glimpsed a plastic Topshop bag, but she reached in and teased out a pink, tissue-wrapped parcel and a bottle of red, leaving them poking like a sales photo from the top of the hamper. She had blondish brown hair and wore a narrow, woven-elastic headband strapped across her forehead, pinching the skin. I wondered how long the red mark would take to fade. When I was twelve I wanted to be a goth. I wanted to be one quite badly, but I couldn’t afford the proper clothes. I would hang around Blue Banana on the High Street, fingering lace corsets and buckles and pretending not to look at the price tags. I didn’t want it enough in the end – I preferred video games. I never made it into the scene. The trouble with making more of an effort is that it unavoidably involves making less of an effort elsewhere. I suspect it takes time and money. I suspect the aim is to look as effortless as possible. This is more easily achieved by renting fancy dress costumes instead. I have heard of chemistry in love – of electric relationships – but all I seem to feel at the beginning of anything is resentment at how much energy it’s going to take to get right. Perhaps I’m just too lazy for this game, for being sexy, for stopping people from walking out the door. After a while the girl swung her bare legs up onto the seat beside her, stretching her toes across the aisle and shooting hard, challenging looks at the commuters around us. She had very
large knees and a down-turned mouth like a Persian cat. She delved into the bag again, this time producing a deliberately second-hand copy of Amerika which she opened somewhere near the beginning and looked at for half a minute or so before scanning the carriage expectantly. She displayed the book face-up against her chest until Warrior Square. Kafka didn’t notice.
Sheffield to Derby, 16:54 It ended. I was annoyed more than anything else. What a lot to have to put into something that went nowhere. I was less annoyed about losing Liam than about having to be single again, I think. Back to the drawing board. Back into the sea. There followed a flurry of phone calls. “I never liked him anyway,” declared every friend, which was surprising because I sort of did. It takes I don’t know what for me to be interested in anybody at all. Liam used to tell me I disliked most people without getting to know them, and maybe it’s true. I’m not sure why I’m like that – perhaps I have some sort of disorder. Perhaps I’m a bitch. Either way, I’ve never cottoned on to the dating game. I don’t understand how to flirt. These days I feel nothing but disgust – disgust at the fact that I can find no other emotion to feel. It’s a pleasantly absorbing little paradox, and it takes my mind off the fact that I don’t care. I wonder what nuances I’m missing. What is it that everyone else can see? I try to decipher how my friends have gone from this to that one day single then somehow suddenly very married indeed. Off they went with their secret understanding of all things nuptial. There they go opening joint accounts and adding named drivers and buying houses all over the place, having careers and so on. Where are they running to? Wait for me! I trail around after them, in the quiet coach, melting over babies. If there’s something in the air I think I must be allergic to it – my face a great puffed-up, swollen mess, scaring away the punters. All the punters, these days - even the ones you wish would leave you alone. They are the ones that make things difficult, that muddy the waters and make me afraid to jump in. “I like your hair.” He wasn’t talking to me, he was talking to the girl next to me. She did have enviable hair. “Thanks,” she said. “My aunt does it.” “Is she a hairdresser?” “Yeah.” She had a very pale, whispery voice. “Where d’you come from?” he asked. He reached across the train table and took her camera right out of her hands.
Quite Small Stories
“Exeter.” She wavered, like wind through reeds. He was looking through her holiday snaps and had become a camera expert. “These are good,” he declared. “I like the light in this one.” His fingertips on her camera were yellow. Under the table, where he couldn’t see, there was a GCSE French textbook sticking out of her bag. “Seriously,” he went on, allowing her a glimpse of her own photos, “you should sell some of these. You could sell them. I can
to cram it into a drawer stuffed with mansized sweaters. There is an emptiness in that drawer that sticks pins in me, in all the soft places – the gut, the throat, the heart. I laid the hoodie as flat as I could, folding and re-folding, and forced the drawer shut over lingering trails of aftershave and armpit sweat. Gone were Liam’s surround-sound speakers. Gone were his expensive copper pans. He took the Play Station but left all my games behind. She was standing on the platform as the
little groan, pulled open the carpet bag on her lap and peered inside. It was dark inside the bag. Somewhere in there, I assumed, was a hat stand, a standard lamp and a trick tape measure. I know my measurement: ‘five foot, eight inches – doesn’t care quite enough.’ From the bag’s cavernous interior she took a lurid pink, plastic tumbler decorated with poster-paint flowers. She placed this on the table, adjusting its position several times with awkward fingers. When satisfied
“I wonder what nuances I’m missing. What is it that everyone else can see? I try to decipher how my friends have gone from this to that - one day single then somehow suddenly very married indeed. Off they went with their secret understanding of all things nuptial. There they go opening joint accounts and adding named drivers and buying houses all over the place, having careers and so on. Where are they running to? Wait for me! I trail around after them, in the quiet coach, melting over babies. If there’s something in the air I think I must be allergic to it – my face a great puffed-up, swollen mess, scaring away the punters.” easily see this one as a screen saver. Or a desktop or something. Definitely.” She made positive noises. The train rattled relentlessly past grey fields and sky. Fat raindrops struggled sluggishly down the glass like obese abseilers. “Hang on.” He pushed the camera back into her fidgety hands. “I’ve got to go to the loo.” He grazed past her down the aisle and she fumbled with the camera, shoving it in her bag. “Fucking creep,” she whispered, not exactly to me. She took herself away to the next carriage and I put my earphones in, although I knew my hair wasn’t up to much.
Birmingham New Street, 20:12 Rainy twilight, two hours down the line. The buffet car had been and gone. Liam’s things vanished from the flat today and a key fell through the letterbox and scratched the hardwood floor. I rescued his threadbare hoodie, tried
carriage screeched to a halt; the tiniest old lady in the world, victim of too many hot washes. She was wearing a hat adorned with velvet flowers and clutched an enormous blue carpet bag as her son helped her board the train. He handed her to the Guard before leaping back onto the platform and safety. “Call me when you get home!” he commanded. “Yes, dear.” He looked up at the Guard. “Can you make sure she gets a taxi?” The Guard looked at him and laughed. When I get home there will be no one to call. No one will need to know where I am. I will get into bed and sleep diagonally across the mattress. In the morning, I do not plan to get dressed. I intend to sit in my pyjamas on the couch watching property programmes and eating Nutella out of the jar. The shrunken lady remained by the door to wave goodbye, her clawed hand moving jerkily as the train pulled away. When we had travelled a safe distance she tottered over to sink into the seat beside me with a
with the tumbler, she reached in again and produced a pair of litre bottles, each wrapped firmly to the neck in its own brown paper bag. With patient determination she prised off both lids, releasing a hiss from one bottle and a juniper whiff from the other. She then proceeded to pour herself the strongest gin and tonic I have ever seen. She put the bottle tops back on, secured each one with care, and sent them back into the darkness of the carpet bag, snapping it shut. “We can relax now,” she said. She raised her tumbler to me and grinned.
Quite Small Stories | 35
Comp Corner Corralled by Danny Gillan still not get an essential monthly injection of And once again the power brilliant articles and a good laugh. - Lesley of the prizes has become Lanir manifest. Was it the chance What if an ordinary woman became a bestselling children's writer, sold more books to win a copy of Guy Saville’s than ever; then Words With JAM bagged an excellent The Afrika Reich exclusive interview with her? Oh you did. Well done! - Susan Jones that prompted so many What if I’m only allowed one entry for this entries to this issue’s ‘What competition? - Mary Hodges If ’ competition? Or was it the If the Roman Empire had kept its troops in opportunity to appear in print Britain, the world language today wouldn’t be English. Consequently, all the Words with Jam alongside some wifey who contests would be in Latin. - Sylvia Teneva writes about wizards? We may Without imagination, human advancement is drastically slowed, any technological or social never know. I prefer to think being unplanned or accidental. it was neither of these and you development Everything viewed as it is, rather than for its potential. No what ifs. - Ian Bussell just like us, but I’ve always been inclined to see the best in And now for the official short folk.
Whatever it was, you responded to our call for what if scenarios in your droves. Unfortunately we ended up with quite a few doublers – Adam and Eve were strangely popular as a topic ripe for subversion, as was Francis Drake and his battle against those Spanish mischief-makers. Quite a few of you didn’t seem to grasp that we were looking for actual historical entries, as opposed to twists on already fictional stories (for any creationists out there let me state categorically that our position on Adam and Eve is that they ARE fiction). While all of these were fun, and many very funny, I’m afraid they couldn’t qualify for winning in this instance. There were also a few that were a little too post-modern self-referential typey thingie for us to comfortably award them a place in the official short list. So we’re going to put them in their own wee list instead cos we liked them so much. Here they are: What if Guy Saville hadn't generously gifted a signed hardback and another paperback copy of his novel "The Afrikan Reich"? – Derek (no surname supplied, we think he may be a spy or something) What if WWJ had never been conceived? I'd have to fork out loads of flippin’ dosh and
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list of 15 followed by our two prize winners:
Something hit Isaac Newton on the head. He woke two days later with a forehead lump and memory problems. Local children teased him. He never sat under a tree again. - Cathal McGuigan John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich had asked for meat between slices of bread, and announced ‘ I shall call this a Montagu ‘ Dominic Allen What if … St Patrick had not banished snakes from Ireland? We could have used them to poison the politicians, property developers and bankers and saved the country from bankruptcy. - Brian Donnelly What if … Pope John Paul 1 had not died after 33 days in office? We would have had openness, marriage for priests, women in the priesthood and arguably a female Pope. Brian Donnelly What if Julius Caesar instead of “I came, I saw, I conquered,” said, “It’s cold, it’s wet, the natives are revolting, let’s go home!” - Mary Hodges What if Reuter had fancied ostriches instead of pigeons? - Mary Cassells What if Archimedes had preferred taking a
shower? - Mary Cassells Katharine of Aragon produced a male heir. Henry VIII didn't divorce her. Lots of innocent people kept their heads. And the Church of England doesn't exist today. - Sue Barnard What if ... global warming was an issue before The Titanic sank. - Phil Kelly What if Stalin was a baker? Would he slice bread equally? Or would he take, consume, ergo not make the transaction mutually beneficial for both parties, causing the demise of his... bakery? - Alan Mutton What if David and Victoria Beckham had conceived their Son Brooklyn in London instead of Brooklyn. Then he'd have been Peckham Beckham. - Susan Jones What if a wormhole suddenly appeared, one end in present-day Norfolk, the other on the Arabian peninsula in the tenth century, enticing Britain retrospectively to colonise the oil-rich states? Moral dilemma, Mr Cameron? - Anya Cates What if Van Gogh was allergic to sunflowers? - Marion Clarke What if Mother Teresa had hated curry? Marion Clarke
Winner of the signed paperback of The Afrika Reich is: What would our current life-expectancy be if Alexander Fleming had just listened to his mum and been tidier? - Vesna McMaster
And the winner of the hardback copy of The Afrika Reich is the subtly brilliant: What if Martin Luther King Jr had insomnia? – Ruth Harvey
Big congrats to Ruth, Vesna and all our listees. A huge thank you as ever to everyone who entered who didn’t make it this time. Don’t give up hope, we do this every issue! Speaking of which, I wonder if we have a prize for the next comp corner. Hmm, let’s see. It has to be something good to compete with Guy Saville’s superb novel. Do we have copies of any other superb novels available?
Preferably more than one? Of course we bloomin’ do! We’ve got five copies of the tremendous, moving, beautifully written 22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson to give away this time. If you’re not yet familiar with Amanda’s book you’re in for a hell of a treat. Her debut novel, published by Fig Tree, is getting rave reviews all over the world (see our blog for LibraryCat’s account of the book’s launch earlier this month) and whoever wins a copy should consider themself a very lucky person indeed. Keeping it as simple as ever, we want no more than forty words sent in the body of an email (to avoid the spam hound) to danny@wordswithJam.co.uk. The topic? Not yet famous last words. Yep, in keeping with our liking for light-hearted fluffiness, we want you to tell us about how your characters die. Not so much the cause of death, but their last words or conversations. Funny, moving, clever or just plain good writing, we don’t mind. Do they make a moving declaration to the universe? Tell us. Do they have a final fight with the wife/husband/son/daughter/ heir/doctor? Write it down and send it over. Do they spend their last moments in soliloquy about the banality and futile nature of existence? Type it out, email it to us, then go for a drink and cheer up. Aaaand … GO!
win one of five copies
Are you having a laugh? Words with JAM Best Comedy Scene Competition 2011 As you may have noticed we enjoy a decent laugh here at WWJ Towers. So for this competition we want comedy scenes, in any format – script, novel extract, short story, play etc. One scene per entry, as many entries as you like.
Prizes: £200 First Prize (plus publication in Words with JAM) and five runners up of £25 each (plus publication on the Words with JAM Blog) Word Limit: up to1000, plus 40 word max synopsis to introduce the scenario (optional) Entry Fee: £5, plus £3 per entry thereafter Closing Date: 19th August 2011 Winners will be announced in the October 2011 issue of Words with JAM. More information: www.wordswithjam.co.uk/maincompetition As ever the work has to be your own and previously unpublished, and while not wanting to be too strict any more than a thousand words or so will be more likely to make us cry than laugh. There is no lower word limit. Each entry must be a complete scene but can be from any point in a story. The object is to make us laugh, pure and simple. It can be a standalone sketch, a scene from a novel/short story, play, script or anything else you can think up. A brief, 40 word max synopsis to introduce the scenario is fine, but it really is just the jokes we’re interested in so don’t worry too much about character development/setting etc unless it is integral to the humour. Of course, humour is one of the most subjective genres out there, but what it comes down to in the end, though, is did it make the judge laugh? And who is that judge? I hear you ask. Well, we went all out this time and pulled in one of the biggest names in the comedy world. Unfortunately Simon Pegg cancelled, so Danny is doing it instead. Danny Gillan has been a contributing deputy editor at Words With JAM since its inception in 2009. He has no idea what this job title means. His first novel, Will You Love Me Tomorrow, won the 2007 Undiscovered Authors competition and was published by Discovered Authors in 2008. It was described at the time as one of the best debuts of the year, and the funniest book about depression you’ll ever read. Sadly, Discovered Authors fell prey to the recession and the book is currently unavailable. The great reading public are ambivalent about this. His second novel, Scratch, is now available on Amazon Kindle. A recent reader said: I laughed so hard when reading chapter four that I think I let out a little bit of wee. This is Danny’s favourite review ever. Danny has had numerous short stories published in magazines and anthologies. www.dannygillan.co.uk Scratch is currently available on Amazon www.facebook.com/dannygillan
Random Stuff | 37
Letters of the satirical variety Dear Editor,
always a big spider at the end?
I am writing to alert your readers to the rip off that is buying so called Kindle books on Amazon. Last month I bought several competitively priced titles and I’m still waiting for them to be delivered. I anxiously check my letterbox every morning and have even been in touch with the Post Office directly and they assure me nothing has been lost. I have also written to Ann Robinson on Rogue Traders, but have heard nothing back. I hope none of your readers will fall prey to this rip off.
Yours truly, Mrs Dussen Geddit O.A.P. Dear Mrs Geddit, I may have figured out what the problem is – do you have a Kindle? Ed Dear Words With Jam, I want to know what’s happening with this great country of ours in regard to the libraries. It’s a disgrace that they are closing them down. As a tramp I’ve been using libraries all over the country to sleep off the effects of imbibing a couple of pints of paint thinner for years. Where am I supposed to do that now? And they always have nice bike racks outside where I can tie up my dog with a bit of hairy string – will these be hit by the cuts too? This bloody government forgets that there are more than just readers affected by their heartless cuts. What’s this country coming to?
PS Are there any more of those biscuits going?
Yes, normally. Ed Dear Editor, Thank you for your prompt reply to my letter, but I don’t quite understand your question. Yours truly, Mrs Dussen Geddit O.A.P. Can anyone explain this to Mrs Geddit? Ed Dear Sir/Madam, We deal with old people every day and as such speak their lingo. Mrs Geddit, you have to buy a Kindle device in order to be able to receive the books you’ve purchased, dear. Pat & Ron Ising PS – would you like a biscuit? Bless. Dear The Words With Jam E-Zine,
Yours in good faith,
I’m writing in support of my local library. As a member of the incontinent community I’d like to know where the government expect me to go to empty my plastic pants load of shit when I’m out for a walk. I normally take the opportunity to projectile defecate while I’m there. I love my library and always take care to get most of it into the bowl.
Major General Blenkinsopp DSO and Bar
Thanks for that, Major. Sometimes we all forget about the farther reaching consequences of shutting libraries. Ed Dear Ed, I have recently read several books by Stephen King. Before I go any further, is it
38 | Random Stuff
aliens at the end or a possessed car. Make sure you get your facts right in future.
Phil T Kacks Dear so-called Ed, I resent your assumption that it’s always a big spider at the end of Stephen King books. I am furious at your lackadaisical approach to research. I am a massive Stephen King fan (weighing in at twenty seven stone) and I can tell you that sometimes it can be space
Do we have any normal subscribers out there? Come on, for fuck sake. Dear Ed, I am very worried about the proposed cuts which will result in the closure of several libraries. I’m just a teenager, but I’m very dowdy and boring so I was counting on a career as a librarian. What am I supposed to do now? I may as well take up smoking LSD and spend all my time at discotheques with the common kids. Yours faithfully, S Addo Dear Words With jam, I will be greatly saddened by the closure of our local library for it was there that I first saw my girlfriend, Penelope. I’ll never forget that moment. It was half past four on a wet and windy Thursday. She came in and ran her fingers through her damp flaxen hair and then made her way to the Historical Romance section. I sat there, transfixed, mesmerised by the tiny raindrop that wriggled from her hairline just above her ear and ran down her cheek. She also had great knockers. I watched as she checked a book out and went back into the weather. The following week, at exactly the same time, I saw her again. And the week after that. If they close down the library, how am I going to tell her that she’s my girlfriend or show her the shrine I’ve made? Fucking government has no consideration. Yours truly, Si Copath. Let’s keep those libraries open, eh? Ed
2011 First Page Competition Winners 1st: Sunset Dust by Abdul-Rehman Malik 2nd: Altered by JW Hicks 3rd: This World and the Next by JW Hicks Shortlist Blue Moon by Liz Monument Little Wild One by Mike Deller Too Right to Make a Wrong by Tony Glover Future Perfect by Alex Schofield Chasing Demons by Kate Measom The Kellenberger Anomaly by David Franks Botox for Dancers by David O’Brien Animus by Carla Leach Jack by Liam Riley The Embalmer by Drew Jerrison Leonardo by Michael Hennessy Red Arrow by Linda Olson Longlist The High Price of the Wild Truth by Melody Von Smith Hannah’s Voice by Robb Grindstaff Bloody Women by Sarah Fraser Frailty by Mary D’Arcy Many a Slip by Oscar Windsor-Smith Close to Home by Nettie Thomson What Alice Sees by Lisa Hinsley The Search by David L Bromwich Don’t Look Down by Barbara Scott-Emmett The Inhabitant by Michael Hennessy The House of Thebes by Derek Flynn
2011 First Page Competition Winners
The Judge’s Report
by Andrew Crofts
First: Sunset Dust by AbdulRehman Malik This is written in a more traditional style than some of the other entrants, which might make it more accessible to a wider audience. It is also very skilful writing. The all-important first paragraph paints a vivid and funny picture, (harking back through previous common room literature to classics like Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall and the works of David Lodge). We get an instant picture of the narrator’s character without the author having to do any crude descriptions, merely by the way the other characters react to him/her and by the way he/she reacts to them. The first line contains the wonderful phrase “it feels like someone just kicked me in the soul” and the contrast between the gloom of the lost adults in the staff room and the brightness of the children in the sunshine brings hope that there may be inspiring things ahead for the reader. The very brief description of the Principal is spot on and the hint of danger bubbling from the innocent child’s knee is chilling. I would really like to know what happens to this narrator next – which is basically the key to all good story–telling.
walk into the staffroom and it feels like someone just kicked me in the soul. My colleagues are huddled around the kettle, desperately seeking the solace of a steaming cup of caffeine. They’re old and overweight, waddling over and sinking into the couches, silently protecting their coffee with one hand and massaging their brow with the other. Their faces sag. Dead dreams and forgotten ambitions well in deep pools under their eyes. This. This is what these kids have for inspiration. I had to get out of there. I walk outside into the light of the ruthless South African sun to the sound of screaming children and peals of laughter. Table Mountain and Lion’s Head brood in the distance, silhouetted against a deep blue sky. Kids run in circles around me before zooming off to another game. I take a deep breath, even though it stings my nose, and breathe in the unique Cape Town air. Why the fuck am I here? In the company of these worn out educators? I see them looking at me from the corners of their eyes with cautious suspicion. They’re wondering the same thing I am. What is a white Afrikaner doing in a black school? Let me tell you, it’s a good question. Two kids, two black girls, come sprinting towards me, kicking up small mushroom clouds of dust in their wake. One of them – the pintsized Berna-Lee – is in my class. She is holding her knee as bright strawberry blood erupts through the fortress of her fingers and snakes down her
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leg. She’s crying, her face knotted in exaggerated anguish, already screaming about which girl pushed her over in the playground. Before I can console her and get some bandages, Principal Abels slinks up behind me and whispers, “Don’t touch her, she’s HIV positive.” Let me tell you a bit about Abels. She got the job of Principal two months ago when George resigned. Everyday she sits behind her desk with her laptop in her fancy dresses and bouffant hair typing away at incident reports and fee absences. Monday mornings she leads a school assembly, which starts with the same greeting, “Good morning learners and how are you today?” Their response? “Fine thank you.” Always fine. Never good, never great, just fine. Every time she speaks her mouth opens like some gaping chasm, every word over-emphasised, every letter enunciated to death.
Second: Altered by JW Hicks Wonderful colloquial writing which is easy to read despite its unusual use of language (“fem” “fused” “filament” and “flesh cutter” all in the first sentence? Sheer genius). The first para, (again, so important), is fabulous. It is funny, shocking and intriguing. What on earth is going on? I really want to know more. Are we going to be dragged into a Bret Easton Ellis style shock-fest, or into a Coen Brothers/ Quentin Tarantino style comedy horror? Then it seems we are moving from what is maybe a crime/detective story into something more science fiction/ psychic powers. Are we in for some hard edged version of the vampire genre? Fascinating. The whole page is vibrant, funny and the slang doesn’t sound forced or false, which is no easy feat. I love it and would really like to read more. I want to find out about Raft and Ratty. I even want to know more about the “sizeable corpse”.
Chapter 1 Trouble in New Swansea
o what are you going to do if you’re a fem with a sizable corpse on your hands and a fused filament on your flesh-cutter? Hell, if you can’t slice and dice there’s only one damn option, leave town. Now, that’s a fine idea if you’ve got a haven to head for and blunt to get you there. But what if you’re skint and there’s no safer place to skip to? What if that’s the reason you landed in a sinkhole like New Swansea in the first place? Let me say that on a hot-list of the resurgent cities of New Britain, New Swansea comes right at the arse end printed in crayon.
I try the knife again, pressing the on-switch so hard I damn near break my thumb. And what do I get? A pathetic little gnat-whine, that’s what. Effing cutter’s dead as the stiff. And now the pain drills in. The real cost of the killing – a giant sized bradawl in my skull! And it’s my own damn fault; I flung the mind-bolt and now I’ll pay the price. But the creep did sneak up on us ... Okay, we acted too hasty, slapped him with more power than was strictly necessary. Soon as I let fly I knew the snoop wasn’t gonna be the only sufferer. Granted he got the sticky end of the deal – hell, he’s dead isn’t he? But my brain’s not as robust as Raft’s so I caught the whole back-slap. Well, he wasn’t power scorched at age five! It’s taken me thirteen years to get back what I lost back then. Not that all my talent came back, and what has isn’t exactly reliable – more like damned iffy, Raft says. Used moderately, it’s steady enough. Some mind-talking, bit of teleporting ... flicking the odd flame, things are fine, but doing something like offing a slimy snooper ... then I get a brain seizure. The rat insists it’s a psyche-wound, whatever that is. Says I’ll need therapy to overmount the prob. Got a big vocab, does ratty. A lot of knowledge in that lumpy, rodent head.
Third: This World and The Next by JW Hicks As with “Altered” I loved the use of language – dreams that “wow you all bliss-soft” is a phrase so good I want to find a reason to use it immediately. This girl obviously lives in a very different culture to anything I have experienced, (I actually had to look up “jonesing” but what a brilliant word it is), and I want to find out much more about her. The style reminded me of the first time I came across A Clockwork Orange, (although it is far more easily understandable than that). Despite being very different it all rings very true; a real, horrific family morning with teenagers, and then suddenly you find you have a mystery on your hands. Why is Pa running back into the house, pale and panting? Perfect, precise description of the twin brothers – “girl hating, staring mutoids” - and I would be expecting a lot of entertainment from them as the story unraveled.
been zinging since first wake-up, despite the twins’ wrangling. The twins, my brothers, Saul and Zephaniah. Thirteen years old, two less than me and cursed with the same red hair and green eyes Pa handed down, together with his skinny frame. Look like me? Yeah, but inside they’re alien – girl hating, staring mutoids. They do speak, but only to each other and fellow grous in a patois that changes so fast you need code breaking wet-ware to keep pace. They been cuffing and spitting since light on, despite Ma’s rants. Did I say they cultivate deafness? Pa’s lucky; he’s on earlies this month up and gone with the dawn. ‘Faith, stop trancing, get ready for college. I don’t want any more calls from Mr Summers saying you’re lagging behind. You’ve got to keep up, get qualifications, or you’ll be stuck in shit forever.’ That’s Ma; sweet she ain’t. It’s best I keep my mouth shut. She don’t want to know what it’s really like in Zone 3 ComColl. She’s deaf and blind to what we see and hear each day. The three of us just mute and stare, like always. ‘Who’s that?’ Ma screeches as the door runners grate. ‘It’s me, Ma.’ ‘Les? What you doing here?’ she shouts, as she drags the twins to the wash unit. ‘Surely you didn’t leave your keying-in card home?’ Pa doesn’t answer. He’s pale and breathing like he’s been running hard. I pull a seat-shelf from the wall and he sags down and drinks the water I hand him. Ma’s muttering about wasting work-time sitting and drinking.
On behalf of the whole team at Words with JAM, I would like to give a huge congratulations to both AbdulRehman Malik and JW Hicks, as well as our short and long lists. We had an enormous amount of entries to the competition, of an extremely high standard. I will personally be in touch with the winners in the next couple of days to arrange getting their prizes of £250, £100, and £50 to them. Warm thanks go to Andrew for the difficult task of selecting our winners. [JD Smith]
Chapter 1- The Move
ver had dreams that cast a day-long shadow? Dreams that frit you into fear-sweat, or wow you all bliss-soft? No? Then luck on you. Got one a coupla days ago that had me jonesing backwards all day, like there was something direful back of me. But last night I woke with colours in my mind, all cosy like I was floating in a warm bath, scented with some spice I never smelled before. All around me swum fuzzy things that loved me. Look, I don’t know how I knew they loved me, I just did. I
Competitions | 41
First Quarter 2011 Judge’s Report by Douglas Jackson
Life - how we live it - and death are subjects which
list had something special to offer, whether
preoccupy every writer, so it wasn’t altogether
in subject, the quality of the writing or in the
surprising that the shortlist for the latest Flash
dramatic sting in the tail, and it was a pleasure
500 competition was predominated by both, with
to read them. Only a few, however, managed to
a rather worrying tilt towards the latter. Darkness
combine all three and I didn’t find the task of
was the prevailing theme, but fortunately
whittling them down to the top six or seven too
the quality on offer served to drive away any
difficult. That was when my problems started.
tendency towards gloom.
These are the stories that made it to my
The one thing that surprised, and, if I’m honest,
shortened short list: We Are Stardust; Runnin’ the
slightly frustrated me was the way that almost
River; This Moment in Time; Bye, Bye Blackbird;
every story stuck rigidly to a very conventional
Lucy Counts the Walls; How the; Garden Grows;
short story structure. We enter a character’s
mind, either in the first or the third person, we are led along a certain path, and at the last moment we are treated to an unexpected, possibly disturbing twist. I believe a competition like this is a wonderful opportunity to experiment with radical ideas in structure or voice and I’d like to think that in future Flash 500 lists we might see a more experimental approach in some of
They were all strong contenders, with consistently excellent writing, strong voices and interesting story lines which came to either a surprising or satisfactory conclusion, and one of them made it for the additional reason that it bucked the trend of wall to wall misery. In the end, however, I had to choose four.
the stories offered. That said, every story which made it to the
HISSAC ANNUAL OPEN SHORT STORY COMPETITION of the Highlands & Islands Short Story Association
www.hissac.co.uk email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org
£400 first prize Closing date 31st July 2011 2,500 word max
Entry fee: £5 per story or £12 for 3 NO CONNECTION TO SCOTLAND REQUIRED, EITHER BY ENTRANT OR THEME
Entries can be posted or submitted on-line
Full details on the website or send SAE to 20 Lochslin, Balintore, Easter Ross IV20 1UP Payment by cheque of Paypal via the website 42 | Competitions
1st: Runnin’ the River I was immediately drawn to Runnin’ the River because of the uniqueness of the voice and the simplicity of the writing. Here is a man enjoying a meal in a restaurant where he’s obviously a well known regular and musing over his life’s choices, good and bad. Halfway through we realize he has an appointment to keep, but there’s no hurry. The atmosphere is relaxed, even though he admits he’s a little nervous. Three short lines of dialogue later the reality dawns like a kick in the stomach. Brilliantly executed, if you’ll pardon the pun.
2nd: How the Garden Grows Wonderful writing that gets right to the heart of what it is to be different, or ‘special’ as the author of the piece puts it. Each little vignette from Fiona’s life takes us further into her world and allows us to feel her hopes and frustrations. She knows she’s different, but that doesn’t make her any less human, and in the final shocking revelation she’s determined to prove it. 3rd: We Are Stardust Some beautiful writing, excellent description and an interesting voice in this poignant short story with an uplifting ending. Highly Commended: Perfect Day During my various readings I always had Perfect Day in my mind because it was so much brighter than most of the other stories. First class storytelling, a wonderful sense of place and perfectly captures that desperate need creative people have to be told how good they are.
Runnin’ the River by Trish Nicholson “How was it, buddy?” “Durn near the best prawns and chilli sauce I ever had, Vince.” It was too, with all the right fixin’s an all. Plenty green ginger and not so much chilli that you couldn’t taste nuthin’ else - just like Ma made. She learnt me to cook. All the years workin’ in restaurants prawns was my specialty; never did tell the boss I dumped his recipes and used my Ma’s. Rest her soul. “Beer?” I nod at Vince and he ducks out and lobs me a nice cool can. He can be a bit crusty, Vince, but a sound guy. I’ve known him for ... well, its gettin’ on for 12 years now. You can depend on him. As we say here in Texas, he’ll do to run the river with. If you’ve got a tough assignment, he’s the guy to have along. And right now I’m feelin’ about as jittery as a longtailed cat in a room full o’rocking chairs. How’s the time? No sweat yet ... June 10th, now there’s a happenstance; big brother Jake’s birthday. Bastard. I guess neither one of us got what you might call a real good start – our Pa lit out before we hardly set eyes on him; Ma all wore out working day and night just to keep the shack around us. I don’t blame her for the sorry guys she brought home, she was an easy mark, but they sure had a bad influence. God knows I ain’t no angel. I’ve done dope and a good bit of thieving in my time. Got put in the slammer for it too – twice. But Jake. He was a whole nuther thing. Some guys runnin’ dope are as dumb as a box o’rocks. Not Jake the Snake. He was smart and thought he was ridin’ high; done it by pushin’ high school kids. Kids. Youngsters with no better start than we had. And he pimped the girls he got hooked. He was makin’ it all ways. But he took risks when he started jerkin’ the suppliers around. I was goin’ straight then. Chef: finger-lickin’ good prawns. With Angie, my steady girl – a real foxy lady, but sweet with it. That was too much for big brother. He put the moves on her, used her, would have trashed her like every woman he come in contact with, but my beautiful Angie topped herself. That really choked me up. The bastard deserved everything he got. “Time to move, buddy. You ready?” “Sure thing, Vince. Equipment all checked?” “All good.” There’ll be no screw-ups – these guys get plenty of practice. So here I am. Restraints in place, ready to run this river alone. We can’t all live honest, that’s a fact. But a man should die honest. No judge nor jury ever believed it, but it weren’t me as killed my arsehole of a brother. Wished I had. Whoever did – live long and sweet, buster. Lord ha’mercy on my soul.
In addition to our quarterly flash fiction competition, we’ve added a humour verse category. What are we looking for? Any form of humour verse, in any style, but the content must be original and it has to make us smile. Anything from a limerick to a poem of 30 lines in length is accepted. The competition will be run with closing dates matching the Flash 500 competition: 31st March, 30th June, 30th September and 31st December. The results will be announced within six weeks of each closing date and the three winning entries each quarter will be published on the website. Entry fee: £3 for the first poem, then £2.50 for each poem thereafter
Prizes will be awarded as follows: First: £150 plus publication in Words with JAM Second: £100 Third: £50 http://www.flash500.com/ index_files/humourverse. html
Competitions | 43
The Agent’s View with Andrew Lownie and Julia Churchill
Andrew Lownie was born in 1961 and was educated in Britain and America. He read history at Magdalene College, Cambridge where he was President of the Union. He went on to gain an MSc at Edinburgh University and spend a year at the College of Law in London. After a period as a bookseller and journalist, he began his publishing career as the graduate trainee at Hodder & Stoughton. In 1985 became an agent at John Farquharson, now part of Curtis Brown, and the following year became the then youngest director in British publishing when he was appointed a director. Since 1984 he has written and reviewed for a range of newspapers and magazines, including The Times, Spectator and Guardian, which has given him good journalistic contacts. As an author himself, most notably of a biography of John Buchan and a literary companion to Edinburgh, he has an understanding of the issues and problems affecting writers. He is a member of the Association of Authors’ Agents and Society of Authors and was until recently the literary agent to the international writers’ organisation PEN. In 1998 he founded The Biographers Club, a monthly dining society for biographers and those involved in promoting biography, and The Biographers’ Club Prize which supports first-time biographers.
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Julia Churchill joined the Greenhouse in January 2009. Julia began her career in books in the press office of Sheldrake Press. In 2002 she started work at the Darley Anderson Literary, TV and Film Agency in London as a Personal Assistant, and was appointed Agency Manager in 2004. The following year she became Associate Agent, specializing in children’s books. Here Julia founded her reputation as a talent-spotter and deal-maker and developed the agency’s prestigious children’s books list. She also handled subsidiary rights for both the children’s and adult sides of the agency. Julia has a ceaseless enthusiasm for the treasure hunt of the submissions pile and can often be found in the cafes of West London, working through a pile of manuscripts. She regularly attends British writers’ events and is on the lookout for both new and established authors with storytelling magic. She is a member of the AAA, SCBWI UK and a committee member of the Children’s Book Circle. http://twitter.com/ JuliaChurchill http://www.greenhouseliterary. com
You just finished your book and are now ready to send it to an agent. How do you find one, best present yourself to them and then decide on which one should several be interested? I’ve run my own agency for the last twenty three years having previously been a bookseller, journalist, worked for Hodder & Stoughton and been a Director of Curtis Brown. Drawing on my experience, let me give you my tips on how best to snare a good agent because I believe having a good agent is usually key to striking the right publishing deal. Personal recommendation, checking the acknowledgements pages of comparable books to yours and looking at websites such as Publishers Marketplace are useful ways of finding an agent but the best way is to simply Google ‘literary agent’ and then look at the agency websites. If an agency doesn’t have a website then it is not going to be fully in a position to promote your book and I personally wouldn’t go to it. Websites are crucial for selling authors and if the agency doesn’t have a good one, which is constantly updated, then it is, in my view, not doing its job. A stylish website is also an indication of the professionalism of the agency. Websites serves many purposes. For your purposes they will show the sort of authors the agency handles, how successful they are and also whether they will suit you. Some authors like the personal service of a small agency, some feel that larger agencies have more clout. Having worked in both sorts, my own preference is for a small agency which has been in business for a while as it will still be taken seriously by the major publishers. I don’t believe agenting is a corporate business but one about relationships and one based on personal reputation. Large agencies can be complacent and tend to have quicker turnover, with the best agents often leaving to set up on their own, whereas there is generally continuity with a smaller agency - some of my authors have been with me since I was at Curtis Brown twenty five years ago. Smaller agencies tend to be more flexible matching the author and book to the right film agent rather than having to use the agent in-house who may not be interested. They also tend to be hungrier and therefore prepared to keep going when an agent on a regular salary and not entirely relying on commission income may give up. Having sighted your prey how, best to present yourself? Every agent asks for something different. Give them what they want. If they have a preferred format then follow it and don’t think you’re doing them a favour by sending the whole script. Agents need to assess the quality and commercial appeal of the book quickly and they don’t have time to wade through hundreds of pages from scores of aspiring authors. Make it as easy as possible for them and follow instructions. Agents like authors who follow instructions. For some high concept ideas, the title or a page is enough but most need evidence of your ability to write the particular book, the structure of the book, how it fits into the market and the extent of that market. Whether it’s fiction or non fiction I like the following: • 1 page mini-synopsis highlighting with bullet points what makes the book new and special • 1 page cv • 1 page with a few lines on the five most recent competing and comparable books giving author, title, publisher and date of publication together with a note on how the books relate to the author’s own book • 1 page on any specialist marketing outlets such as websites, organisations or magazines
For non-fiction I’d then add: • 1 page on sources used • 1 page synopsis per chapter • A sample chapter and, if appropriate, some photographs Content is important - for fiction I might ask for the first three chapters - but so is how the book can be positioned amongst the hundreds of thousands of books published each year. I know every book is different but that’s not how the sales directors see it and they increasingly are calling the shots within publishers. They don’t want to reinvent the wheel but have something they know which sells. ‘The same but different’ is their mantra. I receive over a hundred submissions a day. That’s over 20,000 submissions a year and I might take ten to fifteen of them. Many are easy to discard: they are not areas I handle, are ungrammatical or poorly written, the authors could be difficult, the books are insufficiently commercial for my list etc. However, I turn down perfectly publishable books for all sorts of reasons - too pornographic, depressing or I don’t understand the humour, simply feeling overwhelmed with submissions that day, the author doesn’t have an e mail address or has put American stamps for return postage etc. If you’re rejected, get over it and move on. Maybe it’s my loss but no need to tell me. Like love, maybe the right agent is out there for you or maybe your book, for whatever reason, isn’t commercial. The bar for trade publication is rising and there’s no stigma about selfpublishing now. It gives you more control and can actually be much more profitable so don’t discard that option. With all the information available, there’s no excuse for not targeting your book at a suitable agent. It’s quite clear from my list that I don’t handle Science Fiction, Romance, short stories but I still receive them. I don’t read German, Russian or Arabic but authors kindly assume I have linguistic skills I don’t possess. No agent to my knowledge handles poetry unless it is by an already established household name. It’s also clear that I run a one-man band so it’s easy to simply address submissions to me. I’m constantly amazed by the missspellings of my name, the wrong name used or a submission addressed ‘Dear Sir or Madam’. In some ways, I’m looking to find reasons to turn down a book. Don’t make it too easy for me. In truth, I’m actually keen to find books to sell - if I don’t do so then I don’t eat - but my reputation with publishers is on the line with every book I submit so it has to be absolutely right. It’s all about professionalism. If you appear knowledgeable about your subject and the market and can convey your knowledge in an accessible way and have targeted and personalized your approach then I’m very keen to hear from you.
Julia: “Shhhhhh - I’ve got a secret. The life of an agent is one of extremes. A big part of our job is the hunt for new talent and we can spend weeks and sometimes months in a blue funk because we’re not getting the books. And then in it comes and our world turns on a coin. The death mask comes off with a hop, skip and a jump. Every agent knows the feeling and you can read it on our faces. An agent who’s just signed up someone extraordinary looks a bit different to the one who hasn’t got their new project. They’ll look like they’ve just come back from a spa-break or honeymoon - shoulders down, brow smooth and filled with trust in the world and the promise of great things to come. You know when you meet a friend you haven’t seen for a while - and you can tell in a second that they’re in love? It’s just like that. For a new author getting an agent is a huge deal. A new writer may spend years tapping away quietly in a shed or spare room. And the call from an agent and the offer of representation means it’s not just you that loves your book. It means you’ve found a champion and so that side of it begins. Maybe it’s a trade secret, so I shouldn’t be sharing it, but when we take on a new author it’s a huge deal for us too. It’s long-term commitment, it’s making space in an already busy working life, it’s a leap of faith. When I send a book out, what I’m saying to every publisher is ‘This is the one. This is the one for you’. And these are people who’ve worked in the business for years, have spotted and built bestsellers and huge brands, people who I respect and trust and need. It’s a big thing to say to them ‘Stop what you’re working on - this is it!’ As an agent when there’s a deal happening, we’re on call. I might need to talk to my US boss at midnight on a Friday because something exciting is happening in NYC. I’ve signed an author up at 4.30 in the morning just before getting in a taxi to the Bologna Book Fair where I pitched it like crazy and started a little snowball that turned into an impressive international career. When something with voice and concept and story comes along you cancel dinner plans, you spend all night reading, you get on a train to the other side of the country to make sure you are the one who will help bring this book and author into the world. At Greenhouse we can spend weekends, weeks, months - and months and months - turning a book that has a spark of something great into an international seller that’s going to find champions all over the world. So if you’re looking for an agent and you get the call, they will sound all restrained and clever and businesslike but inside, I promise you, they’re as excited as you are. Shhhh!”
For more publishing advice go to Articles at www.andrewlownie.co.uk.
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Beginnings by Sarah Bower
Over the next ten editions I’m going to be looking at all the basic components of writing fiction. The plan is to inspire and guide you if you’ve never set pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, before, but these exercises will also be useful to more experienced writers who want to build up a library of warm-ups and stretches for the writing muscle. So, let’s begin at the beginning, with a few ideas about where ideas come from and how to get started moulding them into story shape. The first tool every writer needs is:
The Notebook: All writers need a notebook. It might be a beautiful Moleskine or the back of a bus ticket, a smartphone or an ipad, or even in your head if you have very good recall. Whatever suits you, learn to make a space in your life for story ideas. Get into the habit of noticing off-beat news stories, jotting down overheard conversations or odd things you see in the street. Often it’s not just a single thing but the juxtaposition of words, events and images so listing them all in the same place can be a creative act in itself. Inspiration for fiction is all around, but the writer has to train her imagination to be aware of it, and the notebook is your first step. Next you need:
A Daily Writing Regime: Writing is a discipline like any other. The writing muscle needs regular exercise. Write every day, preferably at the same time and in an environment specially created for it (even if this only means clearing a space on the kitchen table for the laptop or always using the same pen), even if it’s only for 15 minutes and what you come out with appears to make no sense at all. Plough on however difficult and mundane it seems – just because writing is classified as an art form, don’t kid yourself that you can sit around waiting for inspiration. The Muse helps those who help themselves!
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Exercises can be really helpful in getting started, whether you’ve never written before or are coming back to it after a break. Here are a couple of suggestions:-
MORNING PAGES Set your alarm fifteen minutes’ earlier than usual. As soon as you get out of bed in the morning, sit down in your writing space and write for ten minutes. Don’t pause before you begin or stop to think while you’re writing, just let the words flow on to the page. You need have no regard for spelling, punctuation or any of the other constraints which we can sometimes find inhibiting. Remind yourself this work is private – no-one is going to see it but you. This is brilliant for freeing up creativity and reassuring yourself that you can get words down on paper. Even many experienced writers do this exercise regularly because it can, in itself, be a source of inspiration, helping to unearth ideas which have been buried deep and blocked from coming to the surface by the preoccupations of everyday life, whether that be other work or family commitments.
ONCE UPON A TIME Sit in a cafe, or at a window overlooking your street or garden, anywhere where there is something to watch. Note down everything you experience – using all the senses, not just sight. What do you hear, smell, taste, touch? Once you’re satisfied you’ve recorded everything your senses are telling you, go back to the beginning of your passage of writing and add the line, ‘Once upon a time...’ You have begun a story. This opening line will work its magic on the jumble of impressions you’ve written down. It will start to impose order. Once upon a time, something happened, then something else happened. Your opening line forces you to begin sorting your observations into some sort of order. Next time, we’ll look at the difference between plot and story and consider more closely how we order a narrative and what effect our decisions have on it.
Sarah Bower is the author of two historical novels, THE NEEDLE IN THE BLOOD and THE BOOK OF LOVE (published as SINS OF THE HOUSE OF BORGIA in the US). She has also published short stories in QWF, The Yellow Room, and Spiked among others. She has a creative writing MA from the University of East Anglia where she now teaches. She also teaches creative writing for the Open University. Sarah was born in Yorkshire and now lives in Suffolk.
Suggested Reading: Goldberg, Natalie, Writing Down the Bones, Shambhala 1986 King, Stephen, On Writing: A Memoir, Hodder & Stoughton, 2000
Writing Children’s Fiction
Not for the Faint Hearted - by Anne Stormont
ou are probably familiar with the Martin Amis quote where he said, ‘If I had a serious brain injury I might well write a children’s book’. Apart from being an incredibly insulting remark to both the brain-injured and to children’s authors, it’s just plain wrong to imply that writing for children requires some sort of lesser skill. As a mother and as a primary school teacher with over thirty years experience, I’ve read, discussed and recommended many children’s books. I’ve found that children are a demanding, impatient and unforgiving audience. They tend not to persevere if they’re not hooked from the off. They don’t usually read because they’re seeking self-improvement, but because they want to be entertained. If they do learn something along the way, then that’s an incidental and positive by-product. But, woe betide the author who makes it obvious that they’re out to impress and educate. Children have highly sensitive antennae for anything patronising, forced or illogical. But they respond well to good, strong characters with an interesting quest or dilemma - much like adult readers. They also like stories that contain humour, friendship and reassurance. Very young children also like predictability. The number one rule for all writing i.e. ‘show don’t tell’ applies even more in writing for children. Short, vivid, active scenes with plenty ‘hooks’ and ‘hangers’ seem to work best. The author needs to see the world from the child’s literal and metaphorical height. Loose ends and ambiguities must be sorted out if children are not to feel short-changed. And, more than anything else, the characters must be engaging and fleshed out. Who’s getting it right at the moment? I’m pleased to say many are. Apart from our cover girl, JK Rowling - Lauren Child, Lari Don, Jacqueline Wilson, Julia Donaldson, Lynley Dodd, Michael Morpurgo, Jeff Brown, Neil Gaiman, Antony Horowitz, David McKee, Francesca Simon and Holly Webb were the authors mentioned most, when I quizzed some of my pupils (aged 5 to 12 years) about who they liked reading.
All who mentioned Wilson’s books in our survey commented on liking how real the problems and relationships are in the books. The girls (it was only girls who mentioned Wilson) liked the strong female leads. They also liked that it wasn’t happy ever after and that as one girl put it, ‘You know people who’ve got problems like the ones in the books, and it seems sort of like real life. It helps you to know how to handle stuff.’ Antony Horowitz was a hit with the older boys. Both girls and boys liked fantasy writers such as China Mieville and Neil Gaiman. Those who favoured this genre mentioned parallel world settings as a particular favourite. Mystery, spy and historical novels all also featured as a genre of choice. Morpurgo’s ‘Warhorse’ was often named as a good read. Some of the children said they liked getting book gift cards as presents and liked going to bookshops to pick out books. Grandparents seemed to buy a lot of the books. And a good proportion of the children were regular users of the local library. In all cases girls seemed to read more than boys. However, the Beast Quest series, which is offered by the school library as home reading was universally popular with the 10-12 year olds – both boys and girls. I think what the above suggests, is that children are just as eclectic, and, just as demanding when picking out their reading material, as adults are. Any writer who ignores or denies this fact does so at their peril. P.S. None of the children had heard of Martin Amis.
SURVEY RESULTS 5-7 year olds – most often mentioned reads - either reading themselves or having read to them: Hairy McLary series by Lynley Dodd (Hairy McLary is a dog who has a gang of doggy friends) ‘My gran gets them from the library for me. They make me laugh. I like the one at the vet’s. I think they’re good. I like all his friends – my favourite is Hercules Morse as big as a horse.’ ‘ Hairy McLary’s funny. He has a gang of other dogs. He doesn’t like cats but he’s scared of Scarface Claw, who’s a cat.’ ‘He (Hairy McLary) is a naughty dog, but he’s funny and I like the one where he keeps his bone all to himself .’
‘The Gruffalo’ by Julia Donaldson ‘Daddy got if for me for my birthday. The mouse is clever. He tricks all the animals into not eating him because they’re scared of the gruffalo.’ ‘It’s the best book I’ve ever read!” ‘It’s good how you think the gruffalo is made up - but then he’s not. He’s really real.’
Older children’s most mentioned: Jacqueline Wilson – severalespecially ’Tracy Beaker’ series but also the new one ‘Lily Alone’
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You Have Two Minutes Starting Now by Dan Holloway
t struck the fear of God into me when I was on Mastermind (specialist subject the Hannibal Lecter novels) as it had done generations of quizzsters before me. And this week I’ve had cause to think how that fear translates to us as writers when we give readings. Two things have brought it on. First, next week is my first festival of the season, the fabulous Grit Lit at Brighton Fringe. Second, a good writing friend of mine, Neil Schiller, author of Oblivious and The Haiku Diary, has just been taking part in Pulp Idol, part of Liverpool’s Writing on the Wall Festival. He had a 3 minute slot. 3 minutes is extreme. Even more extreme than 2 minutes. But it’s a fairly universally acknowledged truth that 5-7 minutes is the time the average audience’s attention span can devote to a reading before the oohs and ahs give way to thumb-drumming and get-on-with-its. And that’s not a lot of words, especially if you’re diligently remembering everything we’ve talked about in terms of breathing, acting, and slowing yourself down. It’s about 5-600 words, in fact. 2 pages of double-spaced A4 text. Not much. So I thought it would be a good idea to talk about how you choose what to read to maximise the effect of those 5-7 minutes. And as Neil both used his brain to make his selection *and* made it through to the final (by the time this goes to press he may be victorious!) of Pulp Idol I thought I’d ensure he wasn’t bored on a Friday night by talking to him about what he did. If you write and sell only flash fiction, this won’t apply to you. But most people reading this column will have a novel to sell. That’s around 80,000 words. So choosing 500 of them might seem impossible. But if you bear a few general rules in mind, it’s not. Neil’s first instinct was one we’d all share. Go for the opening. There are two eminently sensible reasons for this. Our opening is almost certainly the part of our book we have polished the most. And the beginning is the beginning – we don’t have to set a context or worry about losing the audience (at least, if we *do* we have bigger problems than what passage to read). But Neil then did something very sensible. “I timed three minutes from the start,” he said. “And it ended nowhere in particular.” It should go without saying, but often it doesn’t – preparation is key! And Neil’s reaction (ditch the opening) to
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what his preparation revealed illustrates a point that’s so key I’m going to write it in shouty bold things! Choosing a passage for reading aloud turns the rules for submitting a piece on their head When you submit to an agent, you want to grab them at line one. Because if you don’t, you’ve lost them. They won’t read line two. Now of course you should get your audience’s attention at the outset (just as you should leave an agent a hook), but your audience can’t leave at line two. What they’re going to remember is the ending. Choose a passage with a powerful or poignant ending. That’s what’s going to make an audience come straight up to you and buy the book. Then work backwards to find a beginning point, trying if at all possible to have a self-contained episode that both doesn’t need contextualising and demonstrates your ability to drive a narrative forward. Neil makes another very insightful point about his opening. “The opening is quite descriptive but introspective and not really representative of the wider narrative.” The passage you read is like one of those old sewing samplers. It should showcase your writing skills. It should be representative (if you mis-sell book one no one will come back for book two). And it should show off a range of your skills. You write great description, I know. But you also write great dialogue. And you can handle pace brilliantly (a reading should be like a boy band song in this way, with a key change at the crucial moment). And each audience member will have a different opinion as to which matters most in a book. So do your very best to pick a passage which gives as many of them as possible what they want. Huge thanks to Neil for letting me hijack his Friday night. Do look him up at http://neilschiller. wordpress.com/ and join me in wishing him all the best for the final!
Choosing a passage for reading aloud turns the rules for submitting a piece on their head To Summarise: When choosing a passage: • Don’t start with a bang and time from there. End with one and count back • Try to choose a selfcontained episode, with its own arc • Make sure you mix dialogue and description • Try to ensure there’s at least one change of pace • It’s not about choosing your best passage, it’s about choosing one that shows as many people as possible you can deliver the goods in as many ways as possible
Co-author of The Writer’s ABC Checklist, Lorraine Mace, answers your questions ... Patrick from Ireland sent in the following email: I'm reading a Jennifer Johnston novel at the moment. I notice that whenever she goes into flashback, she uses italics. Is this necessary, desirable or purely at the discretion of the author? The important point is to avoid confusing your readers. The author has to signal that the writing is moving into flashback scene. You can do this by using italics, as Jennifer Johnston does, but it isn’t strictly necessary. Leaving a clear line of space and not indenting the opening paragraph signals to the reader that you have moved to a new scene, so as long as your opening sentence shows clearly that we are now reliving a moment from the past, you don’t need to use italics. Having said that, lots of writers prefer to show the entire flashback in italics – it’s up to the individual author and also the publisher’s house style.
Julia from Cambridge had a formatting concern. She said: When we submit email entries to competitions, or any email submissions really, should we indent paragraphs by pressing the space key or by setting the tab? Which do you prefer? I ask you this because you once commented on my tabs in a competition critique not being right and I wondered if this was because I indent by pressing the space bar? I would advise against using tabs or the spacebar. What I do for my own work is set automatic indents using the paragraph settings from the menu. When I’ve finished the document, I go back and simply remove the indent in the opening paragraph by backspacing. I know editors prefer writers to set indents in this way because it is
easier for them to change the formatting when it comes time to laying out magazine or website content. If you indent with the spacebar or tabs, each one has to be manually removed (or the editor has to remove all formatting from the text), which, of course, causes more work in the layout stage.
If you have a blog and/or use a variety of social media, you could make a big announcement when the new version is released. An alternative is to leave the book on sale, but rewrite and restructure and then put the new version on sale under a different
Thomas from Leeds sent in a question that raised all sorts of issues. As he explained: I self published a novel two months ago on both Smashwords and Kindle. It’s doing okay-ish, but I woke up this morning and realised I could have done it not only differently but better. It would mean a major rewrite and a major restructuring of the book (two months, tops) same tale, but a different approach. It would also mean that the people who already bought it have an inferior product. What do I do? Leave it alone and put it down to bitter experience, or rewrite and offer those who have already bought a fresh copy for free? I wouldn’t know how to get in touch with most of them. Any advice gratefully accepted. The main question to ask yourself is whether you want to leave what you see to be an inferior product on sale. If the answer to that is no, then you have no option but to write the new version. Why not remove it from sale now until you have done the rewriting and editing? If anyone contacts you to ask why, you can explain what you’re doing. If it’s someone who has bought the original version, tell them you’ll give a free copy when you relaunch.
title. If the approach is that different, it’s going to be a different book anyway. So, as far as I can see, these are your only options: • Leave it and put it down to experience • Remove from sale, rewrite and relaunch • Leave on sale and rewrite, but launch the revised version under a different title (assuming the story is sufficiently altered to make it a new book) I hope that helps and doesn’t simply confuse you even more.
Victoria from Bedford has a problem getting emotion across in her writing. She asked: How can I get emotion into my scenes? People who read my work say it’s too flat. Firstly, ask yourself if the theme is strong enough. Are there plenty of struggles and difficulties for your characters to overcome? Do you make your characters face the consequences of their actions? If resolutions are too easy, readers either won’t believe in the story, or won’t care about the outcome. You have to write using all the senses and not overdo the descriptions. But most of all, you have to believe in your characters. If you aren’t weeping over what happens to them, then your readers won’t be either.
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What we think of some books
Floccinaucinihilipilification: the estimation of something as valueless Tacenda: things better left unsaid 5’9”: The average height of a British adult male Deipnosophist: someone skilled in making dinner-table conversation Logodaedalus: one who is cunning in the use of words
The Name of this Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch Review by Alia Slater, aged 12 (by the way, this is not my cover-up name) Rating: Logodaedalus
I've read a lot of adventure stories and this is one of the funniest, craziest and most imaginative. The writing is funny, and the adventure is also funny. When you start reading the very first page you won't want to put it down until you've finished the whole book and bought or borrowed or stolen the second, third and fourth books. The fifth one isn't out yet, so until it is you'll have to make it up for yourself. I'm sure you will do a good job. This book is about the sense of smell, and the next books are about hearing, taste, sight and touch. The writer is known as Pseudonymous Bosch, but his real name is Raphael Simon. (My mum told me. I don't know if she's a liar though.) We don't even know the real names of the characters, only their cover-up names. (Just like my mum's cover-up name is Mumpet.) Cass and MaxErnest discover 'the symphony of smells' (a box filled with vials of coloured liquids), which leads them to get mixed up in a mystery involving a magician's notebook, evil alchemists and the hunt for immortality. Cass is a 'survivalist', but sadly she hasn't been in any of the disasters she's always prepared for. Max Ernest, on the other hand, is always logical and he also wants to become a comedian. The funniest thing is that MaxErnest is not at all funny. The narrator is the funniest. I think people aged nine and up would enjoy this book, but if you're a very serious
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adult who wears business suits to work every day and has at least one meeting every hour, you would probably think this book is about as useful as a tap-dancing dog. Woof woof. http://www.thenameofthisbookissecret. co.uk/
Dark Running by M Cid D’Angelo Review by Gillian Hamer Rating: Deipnosophist
Anyone who includes in their pitch – in a world where black magic is real … paranormal investigator … demons, sorcerers and ghosts - had me from hello. This is the kind of book I’d love to write, but don’t have the balls to pull off. Professor Artemus Dark is one hell of a lead. Super-star ghost-hunter: director of applied metaphysics: paranormal investigator. He drives a Maserati, wouldn’t be seen dead without his designer labels, and talks like someone from the cast of Glee while having the mental prowess of Stephen Hawking. Wow. One cool dude. The book opens with the murder of Artemus’s brother, Philip, a less gregarious member of the family – or at least those were our first impressions. However, it soon becomes clear Philip had many secrets of his own; a major player in a secret sorcery society called the Rising Moon and a penchant for some rather bizarre sexual practices among his claims to fame. Philip leaves a code word for Artemus before he dies – Trismegistus - and although the brothers are not close, Artemus goes on a mission to trap his brother’s murderer. We’re taken on a high-action, fast-paced ride through demons and hexes, sorcerers and psychics, from New York to New Orleans to Malta – and back again. The book is a roller coaster ride of energy. Artemus realises early on in his adventure he has been hexed, and not only has he unknown enemies watching his every move, but also a dangerous nether-demon who can appear at any moment and wipe him from the planet. When you have a moment to catch your breath, it’s nice to take a step back
and admire the amount of work the author has taken to craft this novel. The plotting, research, and attention to detail are phenomenal and show a work ethic and love of craft that deserves success. Personal highlights for me were the historical links to heretics, the interesting archaeological dig and the fascinating insight into the Dark family history. We’re also treated to some wonderful characterisation. Not only the originality of Artemus, but some finely-crafted lesser roles too. Constanza Van Dyke and Esphme among my favourites. There’s an interesting balance between good guys and bad – and right up to the final pages it’s never clear which way the balance will shift. An absolutely gripping read right to the finale – although I was proud that from a crime writer’s perspective I did guess two of the reveals along the way. The only negative I struggled with at times was the large areas of narrative (needed really to include the attention to detail) and overdrawn scenes that did at times slow the pace right down. On a few occasions, I found myself wanting to skim – to get back to the action and not worry about details that sometimes seemed irrelevant. Just because the author knows lots of background information on each of his creations, doesn’t necessarily mean every thing needs to be used – and there were a few areas I felt could be thinned out without losing anything. However, I am told that the dystopian genre is hot property at the moment, and for anyone who loves paranormal and science fiction I would strongly advise them to switch on their Kindle and download Dark Running now. And personally, I look forward to meeting Artemus Dark again one day.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling Review by Douglas Smith (age 16) Rating: Logodaedalus
When Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came to the shelves of bookstores across Britain on 21 July 2007, everyone was obsessed with buying it immediately and finding out the finale to the gripping series of books. With fifteen million copies being sold in the first twenty-four hours, records were being smashed (previously held by Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince). Many read the story in its entirety that very same day, the endless questions people were asking themselves were finally answered
and the nation was captivated by the tale of the most established wizard in fiction: Harry Potter. Despite the book series being aimed at children and teens, J.K.Rowling achieved what very few authors can: to have both old and young sharing the same passion and interest for the same book, and this brings into question its genre of ‘children’s fantasy’. The creativity of the author is summarised into a book which is different to every other in the series, yet still brilliantly written and explores the life of the wizard we have all grown to love. With the help of his ever faithful companions Ron and Hermione, Harry must seek and destroy the horcruxes of his arch nemesis, Voldemort, who is claiming ever more victims as the story progresses. With very little knowledge of how to destroy the horcruxes, the trio become isolated and aggravated, and momentarily split due to their anger and frustration, but through gifts given to them by Dumbledore in his will, they find each other and progress in their journey as before. As they search for these dark objects, they learn more about Dumbledore’s past, and about themselves. Through the eccentric wizard Xenophilius Lovegood, they are informed of the three sacred objects that make up the Deathly Hallows: the Elder Wand, unbeatable and the most powerful wand ever created, the Resurrection Stone, with the power to summon the dead to the living world, and the Invisibility Cloak, which can shield the bearer from others’ sight. As the book progresses, the trio become more knowledgeable of the horcruxes, and discover their form and whereabouts, and seek out to destroy them using the sword of Godric Gryffindor, one of the few objects that has the power to destroy a horcrux. As the separate wizarding forces come together for war, Harry confronts Voldemort to avoid any other deaths of friends and allies, and learns more about himself and what he must destroy. Rowling concludes the book and the Harry Potter story with an epilogue set nineteen years later, where the lives of Harry and his friends have changed dramatically. I believe that I share the view of millions of others in that I struggled to put the book
down, just because it was so captivating. J.K.Rowling displays immense levels of creativity and imagination in all seven books, but I can comfortably say that my experience of reading the ‘Deathly Hallows’ was my favourite. With universal themes of death and living in a corrupted society, Rowling still keeps the level of magic, love and friendship that we all expect and adhere to. I rarely hear a bad word said about Harry Potter, and the obsession that some people have obtained with the stories is astounding. A two-part film based on the book began showing in November 2010, and after seeing the second part scheduled for July this year, Harry Potter lovers worldwide have nothing left to look forward to, but a brilliant series of books and films to reflect over. They will be read and watched again and again for years to come. I would strongly recommend this book to anybody who has not read it, if anybody actually finds themselves in that situation. Children and adults have grown to adore Harry, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows concludes the series superbly. A thrilling end to a spellbinding journey.
Hollowland by Amanda Hocking Review by Dan Holloway Rating: Logodaedalus
I can’t be the only person to have a huge writer-crush on Amanda Hocking. I love pretty much everything about her, from the fabulous way she’s conducted herself in the face of criticism to her deeply fab hoody and skinned-netbook appearance. In fact about my only quibble with her is her well-publicised penchant for Red Bull (I’m a dyed in the wool Relentless addict). So it was a cause of both excitement and a little trepidation to get to review Hollowland, the first book of her new series, The Hollows. OK, let’s rewind for a moment. For those of you who don’t know who Amanda Hocking is, she’s the cause celebre of indie writers everywhere. Little over a year ago, she started uploading her young adult paranormal romance books to the web using Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform. Charging 99 cents (she was one of the pioneers of cheap pricing on Kindle), and writing series of books to get readers hooked
and give them more of what they want, she sold a few books. People liked them. People reviewed them. People told their friends. Fast forward a year and Amanda has sold hundreds of thousands of books and has just signed a $2million deal with St Martin’s Press for some of her titles, retaining e-rights to others. She’s living the dream. And she’s managed to stay totally down to earth as well. But can she write? She signed the St Martin’s deal so she could get people to look after the editing and other things like that. She says she’s aware of the prevalence of typos in her work, for example. And I noticed several. But only because she’d pointed out they were there. The “typos in indie fiction debate” will run and run but all I can say is that it doesn’t bother me in the slightest if there are typos, be they in mainstream or indie books. What bothers me is flabby plotting, overdescription, too much beautiful writing in the name of being literary, scenes that start too soon and end too late. These issues are singularly missing from Hocking’s work. Hollowland is a post-apocalyptic zombie novel (yes, that *is* a genre) in which the young heroine, Remy, heads into a zombie-infested urban and desert wasteland in search of her brother, from whom she was separated when the last uninfected humans holed themselves up (with ruinous consequences) in an isolated prison. The story is pace perfect – I was expecting I think more in the way of one bit of action then another, but Hocking lets it breathe in all the right places. And there’s humour, and suitably postmodern winkery as she makes the most of the parallels with Ripley and her band in the classic film Aliens. Whether Hocking is *that* much better than her genre contemporaries I don’t know. With typical humility, she admits to not having a clue what’s special about her – before reeling off names we should be reading. But that’s not really the point. The point is that she’s very good. And her presence on the literary scene is a breath of fresh air. I will certainly be buying the sequel to Hollowland. And I would say the book is essential reading for every indie author who wants a lesson in how to get it right. As well as readers everywhere.
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What we think of some books
Harry Potter – the Books and the Films Review by Matilda Iles (9½) Rating: Logodaedalus
All my life I’ve watched the Harry Potter films. I like watching them over and over, and knowing how they end doesn’t stop me from enjoying them. I’ve grown up with the films and I’ve been to the cinema to see the latest ones. I might watch the 3D version of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2. The cinema that has the 3D equipment is further away but their popcorn is nicer. Just after Christmas, my dad and I started reading the Harry Potter books at bedtime. At the moment we’re half way through Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and my dad’s voice is getting all croaky and he’s moaning about the adverbs. I tell him the story is more important. The books are quite similar to the films but they have much more in them and when I hear the stories it’s like they’re familiar but a lot more complicated. There are things in the books that aren’t there in the films – things like the house elves and Hermione’s struggle to improve their working conditions. Dobby is the only house elf I remember from the films, but in the books there are lots more house elves working in the kitchens, and I liked the story of Winky who was very upset when her master sacked her. Some characters have more detailed stories in the books. I learned much more about Hagrid and his half-giant family from reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and I liked Fleur Delacour and Madame Maxime more when I read more about them. Rita Skeeter and Severus Snape are both much nastier in the books, too, and I didn’t like the basilisk in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. My favourite character is Hermione.
I think the books are better than the films because they give me lots more to think about. My mum tells me that when JK Rowling wrote the first book she was living just around the corner from her in Edinburgh and that was around the time my mum met my dad. So Harry Potter isn’t just about the stories. It’s about the story of the woman who wrote them too, and about how successful the stories became. I like it that the stories are set in Scotland and didn’t get moved to America like lots of stories do when they get turned into films, but I wish the new theme park was closer than Florida. I like Harry Potter because the books aren’t boring and they have lots and lots of detail in them about the people and the places like Hogwarts. Most children’s books don’t have as much background and it’s a bit like being in another world. One day when I get a bit older I might read all the Harry Potter books again by myself. It will remind me of my dad reading them with me and one day I might read the books to my children too.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins Review by Justine Windsor Rating: Logodaedalus
In Suzanne Collins’ dystopian novel, the United States has morphed into Panem, a country consisting of twelve Districts enslaved to the ruling city known as the Capitol. As penance for an attempted rebellion decades ago, the Capitol demands that each District provides one girl and one boy tribute to fight to the death in an annual televised spectacle, the eponymous Hunger Games. 16-year old Katniss Everdeen from District 12 is hoping to avoid selection for the Games. She’s been lucky in previous
years, but this year is different. Katniss isn’t selected, but her younger sister Primrose is. Katniss knows Primrose has no chance of surviving the Games, so volunteers in her place. In some ways, Katniss is an unlikeable heroine, often cold and judgemental. But Collins’ vivid yet unobtrusive prose and Katniss’ sometimes snarky narration (she describes one character as being “apparently required by law to say something awful”) allows the reader to truly live inside Katniss’ head and we can’t help but root for her. We share her disgust for the decadent, shallow lives of the Capitol’s residents, her bewilderment and anger at the plot hatched by her drunken mentor Haymitch and Peeta, district 12’s male tribute, and her fear when she finally enters the Hunger Games arena. Once the Games begin, Katniss faces some horrific adversaries from genetically modified killer wasps to the ruthless Careers, tributes who have spent their lives training for the Games. But it’s not all action, there’s an internal journey for Katniss too as she builds relationships with Peeta and another tribute, the diminutive Rue, and begins to understand that her true enemy has always been the Capitol. The Hunger Games deserves every bit of its phenomenal success; it’s thoughtful, intelligent, highly entertaining and recommended reading for fans of YA fiction or anyone who enjoys a cracking story.
Peggy Larkin’s War by Trevor Forest Review by Anne Stormont Rating: Logodaedalus
It’s often a sign of quality in a children’s book that it has equal appeal for adults. And, in the case of ‘Peggy Larkin’s War’, this is certainly true. Set at the beginning of World War Two, it tells the story of Peggy Larkin, a young girl who is evacuated from London to the countryside. There’s the mystery of a locked room in the house that Peggy lodges in, and of the reason behind the sadness of Mrs Henderson, the house’s owner. There’s also the sinister presence of a stranger in the woods. The story follows Peggy as she endures separation from her parents and makes a brave attempt to settle into her new life. Along the way she makes a new friend and demonstrates remarkable stoicism and resilience. Forest’s writing is excellent and is pitched perfectly for its intended readership of upper primary school age children. He doesn’t patronise and he writes with an immediacy and economy that will appeal to children. Forest never intrudes into the story, and it never feels like he’s trying to educate or preach. This is child-friendly, accessible entertainment. It’s all about the story. The only disappointing aspect for me was the book’s brevity. Having set up such great characters and a setting with so many possibilities, it would have been good to have further chapters and more adventures for Peggy. So it was good to hear from the author that it is his intention to do just that - if the book proves popular. I can see no reason why it shouldn’t be a hit. It would be a good read aloud book for those wishing to read to the children in their lives, but the text is perfectly accessible for young independent readers. It would also be an ideal addition to primary school ‘World War Two’ topic boxes.
Surface Detail by Iain M Banks Review by Danny Gillan Rating: Logodaedalus
In a universe where it’s possible to live forever, everyone has to end up somewhere. I do love me some culture, so it was a
joy to return to Iain M Banks gloriously hedonistic, anarchic and utopian Culture universe for another round of headscratching, intellectual storytelling brilliance. Surface Detail is about Hell. Or rather hells, plural. It asks what it is about human (or human like) make-up which allows us to assume that eternal torment and everlasting agony and torture are okay, even desirable. And, thanks to its setting, shows that when the technology becomes available there’s every chance we’ll create our very own virtual hells for this purpose. This ethical debate runs through the book, but the book is about plenty more than that. We follow several protagonists (including one we may have met before) as they play out their roles on either side of the War in Heaven, a virtual reality war between pro- and anti-hell civilisations. Whichever side wins will earn the right to either keep their hells in perpetuity or see all such virtual hells permanently destroyed. Although The Culture itself is avidly anti-hell, it has agreed to stay out of the conflict and abide by the result, whatever that may be. But you know The Culture, they do like to have a meddle … Surface Detail opens with a breathless pursuit that ends in cold blooded murder. But death isn’t always final when The Culture are involved. We visit one of the many virtual hells and see first-hand the utter degradation and endless agony suffered there. We follow a combatant in the War In Heaven as he takes part in, and gets killed in, several battles, somehow managing to get himself promoted every time until he’s in a position to inflict some ‘real’ damage. And we follow the tale of a slave girl and her murderous owner as she pursues him across the galaxy in her quest to return a favour. Aside from the ‘hell’ debate, one of the recurring themes in this book is the idea of virtual immortality. If you’ve ‘backedup’, then you can die and the back-up version will swiftly take your place. This version will have all your memories, thoughts,
feelings and desires and will, as far as it is concerned, be you. But will you be it? Although not explicitly explored this idea is never far from the reader’s mind, and leads us to the conclusion that Banks, once again, is subtly subverting the very thing he appears to be advocating. Although it may not be the best jumping in point for readers new to The Culture (just start at the beginning with Consider Phlebas), Surface Detail is easily the most entertaining entry in the series since Excession, and is as thought provoking, intellectually satisfying and stimulating as anything in Banks’ canon. This is one author who never fails to impress. Surface Detail is released in paperback on May26th by Orbit.
Tulagi Hotel by Heikki Hietala Review by JD Smith Rating: 5’ 9” and a half
Set during and after World War II, Tulagi Hotel introduces us to Jack Maguire, ace US fighter pilot turned hotel owner. Having spent the war in the sky, when it’s over he struggles to make a life for himself on the ground, and he chooses to build a hotel in the Solomon Islands where he flew with the military. It’s here Tulagi Hotel opens to a clumsy start, when Kay Wheeler (the widow of Don, Jack’s wingman during the war) comes to visit the island to find out how her husband died. The narrative mirrors the awkwardness of Kay and Jack meeting and discussing the past, and despite a varying point of view within paragraphs and over description, the pace soon picks up and you’re taken on a journey through Jack’s time at war. Unsurprisingly Jack’s passion is flying, and the book steers us through a series of vividly imagined scenes, from Don Wheeler’s comic encounter with a reporter, going head to head with his instructor, encounters with the Japanese, to the intrigue of Mr Khayyam, and Rogers’ passion to work for Disney. Tales of heroic piloting, the sad mix of life after war, the death of comrades, a love story, and a spark of humour. Add to that the passion and historical knowledge evident in every page of Tulagi Hotel, and there’s something there for everyone.
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Crossword, created by Bibliothecaria and the Sybil Rock Singer Gives Oral Sex (3,4) There was a point in my life when time dealt with me less harshly by seeming to allow me more of itself. And what was the result? Boredom, that’s what. So I did crosswords. Amongst other things, obviously; I drank like a fish and was seldom in a legal state of mind. Don’t get me wrong, I had a life, but I enjoyed crosswords too. I lived in Cambridge then, and drove a taxi for a living. There are those who say that in Cambridge, even the taxi drivers have degrees. Believe me, that’s bollocks. On warm summer mornings when we weren’t busy, we’d sit in the smoky hut that was the Camtax office as we waited for fares,
If you would like to download and print a copy of the Crossword, visit www.wordswithjam.co.uk/crossword
perched side by side slurping sugary coffee and reading the Sun because of tits. Except for me, of course. I sat there with the Guardian’s cryptic crossword, tapping my Bic against my teeth as I tried to resolve the arcane and the obscure. Mostly I was posturing. The room was full of red-tops, so in those days before posh papers twittered themselves down into tabloid form, I’d fold my Guardian up into a pocket-sized rectangle and do the crossword. Nowadays I move with the intelligentsia and in consequence I approach things all topsy-turvy, by quoting Eminem at feminists where I use to eat quiche in front of truck drivers. Freudians tell me I’m subsuming the id to the ego in order to draw attention to myself. My old headmaster once said “Perry
would do better if he put the same amount of effort into his academic work as he does into entertaining his classmates.” Well he can just fuck off. Actually, given my age, he probably already has. It was a while back, and he was old even then. Driving a taxi and drinking heavily should have been mutually exclusive. I did what I could to keep them separate, and the crosswords helped get me through the day. As I got more used to them, I felt myself slipping through the doors of the compliers’ mindsets and into their heads. Any reference to the army showed that the letters RE were in the answer. Royal Engineers, see? Why, I don’t know. Why not beefeaters or the King’s own Scottish Borders? Anything
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These tuneful tailed beauties heralded Tony Hill (8) The name Captain Corelli gave his mandolin (7) Vianne's answer to religion - better than sex? (8) Larry _, creator of the Kzinti (5) Author of 'The Cowards' and founder of 68 Publishers (9) A quirky name for this posh detective (6) Morse's last secret (9) Crime Supremo who ended up a Goon (8) Game played by Joseph Knecht (5,4) Daughter of Wormwood, pupil of Honey (7) In Ghost Light, with which playwright did Molly Allgood have a year-long, yet lifelong love affair? (1,1,5)
Down 1 3 5 6 7 10 13 14 16 18 19
Spike Jonze’s 2009 film was adapted from whose classic children’s story? (7,6) Accusing French author (4) Home of nine red-haired wizards (6) Where Harper Lee killed a Mocking-Bird (7) Bleak House’s eponymous litigants (8) Taken in by Eliot’s miser (5) Ran rings around the little people (6) His short life was lived forwards but told backwards (6) He wrote a novel about infuriated fruit (9) He fell madly in love with the chaplain in the opening lines (9) Hannibal made his first appearance in this novel (3,6)
naval indicated AB for able seaman. A newspaper reference indicated ED, useful for past participles. If the clue included words like “rearrange” or “about” there’d be an anagram in there somewhere. Sometimes these little indicators doubled up. “Seaman lies about rope descent” for example, was ABSEIL. There were homophones and clips too, so “Klingon in a slim petticoat” was LIMPET. There were compilers who favoured anagrams and those who were obviously classicists in the literary or musical sense. I’d never solve their clues, with their references to Messaien and Tippett or Spenser and Dryden and whoever that bloke was that followed Samuel Johnson around writing about him whenever he could remove himself from his master’s rectum. Those crosswords would go unfinished, and I’d fume at the next day’s paper when I realised the answer was something or someone I’d never heard of. How fair was that? So my favourite clues were always the cryptic ones. You can figure the answer without knowing or understanding the word. “Mild expletive credits ostrich depiction” was STRUTHIOUS. No, I’d never heard the word, either, but I worked out the answer, which filled me with the sort of infuriating smugness that fits perfectly with that id versus ego battle I was talking about earlier. The crossword compilers were quiet men who lived private lives behind tall hedges in the heart of England’s dreaming. Retired vicars, somnolent gardeners, theologians and the sort of gentlemen you’d occasionally see on Countdown (“No, Richard, I was an actuary, not an accountant”) who were so dried up they couldn’t even be bothered to flirt with Carol Vorderman. They’d spend weeks concocting a perfect mixture of the attainable and the abstruse, only to have the Guardian slip them twenty quid for the privilege. Quiet men at the opposite end of the artistic spectrum to, say, Kerry Katona or Kiss. I could imagine them pondering wordplay over Earl Grey tea and fishpaste sandwiches. Men with studies lined with reference volumes and ivory chess sets. But above all they were men of confidence, sure in their oblique obscurities like all the best writers should be, certain that in the final analysis we’d bow to their abilities rather than scoffing at their shadowed allusions. And this brings me to the wild and wacky world of Words With Jam, your cutting-edge literary publication. We now have a crossword. We’ll have compilers who’ll share the responsibilities, a mish-mash of stylistic influences, probably a few off-colour quotes or answers and a few groany puns too. Crosswords will probably never put rock ’n’ roll out of business, but if they help you get through a few hours at the wrong time of day, if they help fill those precious minutes before your drug of choice sends you to stratospheric levels in which the completion of crosswords becomes less important than the shade of varnish on Katie Price’s fingernails, then they’ve done their job, they’ve fulfilled their purpose. They won’t solve the meaning of life. They’re just crosswords, so enjoy, conquer and move on. Oh, Axl Rose, by the way.
Horoscopes by Shameless Charlatan Druid Keith This month I’ll be drawing a card from the ancient mystical Tarot deck to help with your guidance. Remember, don’t mess with the cards because if you do the Devil will come and get you in your sleep and eat you. LEO - As a famous Leonian (Leonian Lewis) once sang – Some people wait a lifetime for a moment like this. And now is the time for Leonians everywhere to seize that moment and enter a talent show. The tarot card that guides you this month is the Hierophant, also known as the Pope, so get a Glasgow Celtic shirt, drop to your knees and pray like the wind on new hit show Britain’s Got Catholics and you’re bound to win. VIRGO - The Virgonian tarot card this month is the Lovers. This could mean that for the next while you will feel able to make decisions based on emotion rather than intellect, although, let’s face it, your belief in the relevance of horoscopes means this won’t be anything new to you. However, it’s more likely to mean you could catch your partner doing it with that dirty Mrs Smith from number thirty one. If you seek further guidance with your choices there are a series of helpful videos out there aimed directly at you called – The Lovers’ Guide. LIBRA - The coming month is looking positive for athletic Librans as your Tarot card, the three of cups, could mean some trophies coming your way. Another way to interpret this news is that you may require a special under garment for your extra breast, you freak. SCORPIO - Scorpioists – exciting news! The stars are aligned this month and are working in conjunction with your tarot card, the three of wands. You don’t need to be a shameless charlatan like me to realise that the wands stand for a meeting with a conjuror and being that there are three of them with each representing twelve inches it’s obvious that you’ll be spending time with hobbit sized trickster Paul Daniels. He may even be tempted to share with you the secret of how he got normal sized human girl Debbie McGee into his hobbit hole. SAGGITARIUS - This summer would be the perfect time for you Saggies to think about going on a summer holiday. Make sure you cover up properly on the beach, not only because of the dangers of UV radiation, but also because being a Saggy you might put other holiday makers off their lunch. Look out for men in Speedo’s because this could lead to romance for you Saggy women as your tarot card is the Well Hanged Man. CAPRICORN - The Capricornian tarot card this month is the Chariot. Of course, the chariot of choice for you has always been the stunning vinyl roofed Ford Capri, as evidenced by famous fictional Capricornian
Minder, Terrence McCann. If you don’t already have one, this month would be the perfect opportunity for you to piss away all your family’s savings on this fine automobile. If they complain just say its fate and shrug your shoulders. After all, fate is at least as good a system to believe in as the Stars. AQUARIUS - Your tarot card this month is The Star, which, as you superstitious types (and every builder who buys the daily paper based on this card) know, shows a picture of a topless girl pouring liquid from a vessel into a pond. This is obviously a direct message for those Aquariusists who are working in the canned fizzy drinks industry - now is the time to shake things up. Just like inventor of Coca-Cola, famous fizzition Mr Cola, all you have to do is follow your dream and in no time you’ll be a billionaire. You don’t need any formal business training or anything, just believe in the stars and shit like cosmic ordering and it will all fall into your lap. PISCES - Although you have eaten all the pies, there is still a chance for romance for you Picesists this summer. The Saggies are going on holiday and are on the lookout for romance. Being so Saggy themselves they are likely to be less picky and are, therefore, an ideal star match for you. Your specially divined tarot card is the Sun which shows a chubby little fellow on horseback which indicates that you should avail of donkey rides while at the beach in your Speedos. ARIES - Since losing the D from the front of your sign, many of you may now be struggling with your milk and cheese businesses. The card the stars has chosen for you is the five of pentacles which, as you know, shows a picture of a bloke on crutches going through the snow so you’re probably going to break your leg in a skiing accident too. Them’s the breaks. TAURUS - Greetings Taurusists. You are about to move up in the world. Your card for this month is the Tower which indicates that you’ll be moving into a new flat. However, a second card fell out of the pack by accident and it was the Hermit, so maybe you’ll be moving because you’re getting divorced or something. Sorry about that. Don’t blame the messenger – the cards don’t lie. GEMINI - There’s a tough time ahead for Geminists. Your card for the month is Death, which can indicate a period of great change, the end of a phase and the beginning of a new life. Of course, it could just mean you’re going to die, so probably best not to buy any new shirts until the month is over. CANCER - Good news for Cancerists everywhere – you didn’t get the Death card! Instead, the mystical forces have given you the four of Swords which shows a knight’s tomb. However, it just means, apparently, that you’ll be having a nice rest – maybe by losing your job or something. And while you’re resting you could have a nice ciggie. There’s always a silver lining.
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