Sunday, 4 December 2016

How to help to save public libraries – David Thorpe

I know that we are hearing a lot about library closures due to council cutbacks, especially following a day of action to highlight this by unions on 5 November.

But, you know, it would help if people paid their library fines. Apparently, over £347,000 is owed in library fines across Wales. Researchers found:
  • The largest amount is in Rhondda Cynon Taf, where £67,679 is owed from the last three years.
  • Second is Swansea, where borrowers owe £66,381.
  • Cardiff library users owe £38,304 and
  • In Newport the sum is £31,748.
Hmm. Now where is that library book I was supposed to return?

Whichever way you look at it that's an awful lot of books that haven't been returned as well as money owed.

Several councils didn't even reply to the researchers' question, leading them to assume that the overall amount in Wales of unpaid library fines might be as high as half a million pounds, enough to build a new library or two perhaps.

That's why it is refreshing that Carmarthenshire Council (£4,320 unpaid in 2015) where I live is still supporting its libraries.

Recently it has held a series of Christmas book fairs in various libraries such as Llanelli, Carmarthen and Ammanford. Authors were invited to present their books and give readings. Here is Angela Fish, who not so long ago gave up her day job as a lecturer to become a children's writer:
 Angela Fish
 Angela Fish with her books about Ben in the Spider Gate.

And Bryce Thomas with his young adult books:

Bryce Thomas
Bryce Thomas
But again, you know, turnout wasn't brilliant. Was this down to lack of publicity or lack of public enthusiasm?

Basically, it's use it or lose it, people.

Libraries in Carmarthenshire do try. They also celebrated Children in Need day and have been making the most of the fact that it has been the year of Roald Dahl's birth centenary, putting on a series of events for schoolchildren.

Roald Dahl day for  schools in Llanelli library

Roald Dahl day for  schools in Llanelli library

And during Halloween Fun Week children at Llanelli Library took part in a Treasure Hunt. Everyone took home a fridge magnet and bookmark and went into a prize draw to win goody bags. There was a Story Time and a Halloween craft session.

 Halloween day in Llanelli library

I thought I'd look for some other good library news just to test whether the picture is all bad. In the past few months:
  1. A housing association and construction firm have joined forces to come to the rescue of a much-loved community library building.
  2. Friends of Llanfairfechan Community Library (FLCL) managed to get hold of a £30,000 Community Facilities Grant from the Welsh Government to do up their library which despite being one of the smallest libraries in Conwy had one of the highest children’s summer challenge readerships. Colwyn Bay-based Brenig Construction is carrying out the work free of charge.
  3. In the Rhondda valley another library is being renovated: Tonypandy, which is undergoing a total refurbishment financed by the council to the tune of £60,000 – which is less than those unpaid library fines! Let's hope all the new users of this library take their books back or pay their fines. 
  4. And Ebbw Vale the library not far away has already had an extensive refurbishment and now offers improved disabled access, a re-designed IT suite and a new community room. You can get free Wi-Fi. And it hasn't lost any of its traditional features.

Ebbw Vale  renovated library

So, with some councils trying their damnedest to keep open the libraries they have, if people want to keep their local library open shouldn't they cease grumbling and use them? And pay their fines!

[David Thorpe is the writer of Marvel's  Captain Britain, the sci-fi YA novels  HybridsDoc Chaos: The Chernobyl Effect and the cli-fi fantasy  Stormteller.]

Saturday, 3 December 2016

DECEMBER'S AUTHOR by Sharon Tregenza


Cornelia Funke is a German author of Children's fiction. She was born on December 10th, 1958, in Dorsten, North Rhine-Westphalia.

As a child, Cornelia wanted to be an astronaut but went on to study pedagogy at the University of Hamburg. After graduating she worked as a social worker with children from deprived backgrounds. Inspired by the type of stories that appealed to the children she worked with she began with illustrating books, but soon decided to write her own.

Her work is mainly in the fantasy and adventure genres. In the late 1980s and 1990s she established herself with the fantasy-oriented series: Ghosthunters.

Her best-known work is probably the Inkheart trilogy: INKHEART (2003), INKSPELL (2005), and INKDEATH (2008). The stories tell the adventures of teen Meggie Folchart and her father, a bookbinder called Mo, who have the ability to bring book characters into the real world.

On ideas for writing, Cornelia Funke says: "they come from everywhere and nowhere, from outside and inside. I have so many I won't be able to write them down in a lifetime."

On characters: "Mostly they step into my writing room and are so much alive, that I ask myself, where did they come from. Of course, some of them are the result of hard thinking, adding characteristics, manners, etc., but others are alive from the first moment they appear".

Favourite Funke quote: I always wanted to ride a dragon myself, so I decided to do this for a year in my imagination.

Friday, 2 December 2016

WHAT’S IN THE SHOPS – Dianne Hofmeyr

As the darkness was closing in, on yesterday’s chilly 1st December 2016 in a temperature of 3 degrees (I’m sure much colder in other parts of the UK) I went in search of bookshop windows looking for Christmas cheer. My walkabout was limited to my borough and a little further afield.

A quick stop before darkness at the South Kensington Book Shop, a great Independent, with the sun still up and the domes and cupolas of the V & A reflecting in the single window, I found a charming alpine snow scene of houses and snow flakes made from printed paper resting on books. In a way, similar to those amazing cut-outs made from books in the V & A’s own book collection.

To the side of the village, a model castle from Usborne’s Castle books along with books touching on Christmas in varying degrees, including some Enid Blyton spoofs. 
Right next door, the Medici Gallery – not strictly a bookshop but a delightful card, paper and much more sort of shop – this being the French Quarter of London, understandably had a display of Tintin and a large Snowy that would steal a few children's hearts. 
Further afield at Daunt Books in the Fulham Road,  their pavement was being dug up and the front of the two very generous windows they usually reserve for the children’s book display were covered by engineering work screening. Inside the shop I manage to capture a view of some baubles that were put in the window just as the pavement came up.

The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots with Quentin Blake illustrating a lost Beatrix Potter story was on display and Karen, the bookseller, assured me The Fox and the Star by designer Bickford-Smith, which won the Waterstones Book of the Year, was selling well. In a limited range of colour, the illustrations of darkness contrasting with flaming orange in spreads like this were wondrously warming on a cold night.

In The Little White Company I found that Nosy Crow had put its claw in the door with quite a few titles and found this display, not in the window but on the shop floor. Interesting to note that on another table I found the White Company are producing their own baby books… all pearly and silvery and soft focus to match the pearly and silvery rooms that mums who shop here, no doubt have created for their babes.
Then in the glittery darkness and getting more frozen by the minute, I set off for Piccadilly to see what the ‘heavies’ had in their shop windows. First up was Hatchard's with the Kitty book again and great to see Three Little Monkeys by Emma Chichester Clark also illustrated by Quentin Blake and a wonderful collection of the Winnie-the-Pooh stories with the original E.H. Shepard illustrations.

Waterstones Piccadilly seemed to fill their three large windows with toys more than books. But great to see The Book of Bees which tracks bees to as far back as the dinosaurs.

And finally the majestic flying angels of Regent Street which pay homage to the original lights of 1954. If you’ve spotted one of your books here, please shout out.  Best Book Offerings go to Hatchards and winner of the Best Display goes to South Kensington Book Shop.

I wish I could have gone further afield but by now I was completely frozen and it was time to head to Jane Ray's exhibition of illustrations for the Nightingale Project and who was there but the wonderful Quentin Blake himself. Jane has produced images that can be reproduced to the height of the walls in the women's Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit at St Charles Hospital. It is an incredible display and prints are for sale in aid of the project. So if you are looking for a gift for someone special for Christmas head for no 1 Nightingale Place SW10 9NG next to the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. The exhibition continues until 21st April 2017.
twitter: @dihofmeyr

Thursday, 1 December 2016

CAN YOU HAVE YOUR CAKE? Thoughts on Libraries by Penny Dolan

The kitchen is full of the comforting smell of sugar and spice. I’m baking for the Friends of the local Library Refreshment Stall” tomorrow, when along with the mince-pies and scones, we’ll be handing out flyers for January’s Friends Quiz Event.

Yet today, on the first day of December 2016, that sweet baking scent is stirring some worried and bitter thoughts.

Our centre-town library is a lucky one, designated one of five “core” libraries spread throughout the County. The Friends fund-raise for small, occasional projects suggested by the current library staff. We are not faced with bills for heating & upkeep or legal fees to keep the building open, which I fear some libraries will be, soon enough, or already are.

Yes, it’s 1st December 2016 - and three months from now, on the first of April 2017, all the library cuts planned in the name of austerity will come into effect, not only here in my town but all over this County.

60% of the paid library staff at “my” library, at all levels, will have gone and the hands-on library work will have to be done by “general” library volunteers. 

It is a big change, but we are the lucky ones, with 40% staff remaining for now. In the smaller libraries, the cuts are even deeper. They will be run by volunteers who can “phone a named librarian” if they need help.

Right now, on my desk, there’s a Volunteer Form, ready for me to fill in and return. In January, there will be news of training days and on-line courses. What else can one do? Live in hope.

Outwardly, the Carnegie building – in a town rather proud of its appearance – will show no sign of those changes within. However, what worries me is the framework, the structure “inside” all these libraries.What will happen to the “deep” library knowledge, once all the trained staff have gone, as they must over time?

How will the culture and the expertise – that much-scorned word – be prevented from fading away? How will the library administrative system actually hold together? And who exactly, will be able to hold together a loose, disconnected library system?

I’m also, as a naturally suspicious person, rather worried about a model that relies so heavily on volunteers. Of course, people who give up their time for good causes are obviously wonderful people, trying to meet the needs of what they see as a local or national good.

Yet volunteering is also a kind of bargain. People get something out of the work, whether a social buzz, a skill-set to be practiced or learned, a more interesting place to be, a chance to help others, a good feeling about themselves or all the set. 

Such  satisfactions are what keep the volunteers coming.

However, volunteers are not employed or contracted to turn up. They remain, largely, autonomous. If the task doesn’t fit, they can stop turning up. If traffic or the weather is bad, they might decide to stay away, especially if their health is less than good. Family, hobbies, travel and other matters can demand their time and attention too. How will all this be managed, once large numbers are involved? 

Heavens, planning the schedule for Saturday’s four-hour Refreshment Stall was complicated enough, with some not wanting to do this or that quite then. Fair enough for a cake stall, but not so great for a public library service!

Will the few remaining librarians really have time and energy to deal with endless weeks of volunteer ebbs and flows, especially those in areas far less comfortable than where I live?

I have another worry, too: quite who will manage the group dynamics within the varied volunteer situations? Personally, I’ve met lots of generous, hard-working, helpful, practical-minded volunteers without any hint of attitude. Yet I’ve come across tales of self-centred special interest groups; of long, power-play meetings about the colour of a newsletter; of children’s activity teams excluding others who want to help and more.

Such antagonisms happen within the world of paid work, but it is far harder to sort these matters out when you are beholden to your volunteer helpers. Who will be dealing with all this issues?

I’m sorry. I’m sorry. The first week of December isn’t really the time to be so critical and gloomy about the library service, which is something that I have loved my whole life, but when is? Besides, I might be wrong about this and all will be well.

Move on, move on. Put up the fairy lights and decorations. Stop sounding so miserable. Just fill in the Volunteer Application form and be positive and hopeful.

I will, I will, but maybe, while baking today, I’ll add a little more sweetness to the cakes, just to be on the safe side for Saturday’s customers? A good idea, yes?

Rant over - and wishing you all a good December!

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Three Books, Three Balls In The Air - By Lari Don

I’ve learnt a lot about writing trilogies in the last three years, mostly things NOT to do. (For example, don’t start more subplots in the first two books than you can tie up in the third book. I spent a lot of last year slashing out minor plotlines.)

But I recently discovered something else about trilogies, especially trilogies that your publisher wants to publish in autumn, spring and autumn (ie 6 months apart).

Bringing three novels out in quick succession (even if they are all basically drafted before you start) can mean the writer is experiencing a different point in three different books’ life cycle at exactly the same time. This month, for example, I’ve been promoting Book 1 of the Spellchasers trilogy (The Beginner’s Guide to Curses), dealing with the final edits of Book 2 (The Shapeshifter’s Guide to Running Away) and tackling the first major redraft of Book 3 (The Witch’s Guide to Magical Combat).

This means I’ve been talking to kids about the decisions behind an action scene in one book, while perfecting the language in an action scene in the next book, and trying to decide whether I should radically rework an action scene in the final book.

So the opportunities for getting tangled up in timelines and for blurting out spoilers to classes of 10 year olds are vast and varied! Particularly given that that one of my characters is a different shape, with different powers, in each book...

I’m having to think about each book in a different way. I’m thinking about Beginner’s Guide in terms of introducing the story, performing readings and discussing creative processes. I’m thinking about Shapeshifter’s Guide at a pernickety level, chewing on word choices and punctuation decisions. And I’m thinking about Witch’s Guide in a broad brush way, reducing wordcount and sewing up plotholes. This feels like slicing myself into three separate writers, each doing different things with the same overarching story at the same time...

But being three different writers at the same time is nothing compared to the challenges I regularly set my characters, so I can’t complain! Also, I love chatting to young readers about stories, and I love editing (yes, actually, I do love editing). So this month has contained many of my favourite things about being a writer!

I thought writing the trilogy was the hard bit. It turns out that promoting and editing a isn’t simple either. I’m juggling three books: each at a different stage in its life cycle, each a different weight and shape, each spinning and falling in a different way... I’m just waiting for one of them to bash me on the head!

But the joys of spending all this time with the characters, the magic and the story still outweighs the many challenges of writing a trilogy. (I suspect my next story idea wants to be a trilogy too. I’ll have to get used to keeping timelines untangled, stamping down on spoilers, and keeping all three books in the air!)

The first book in the Spellchasers trilogy, The Beginner’s Guide to Curses, is out now, the Shapeshifter’s Guide to Running Away will be out in spring 2017, and the Witch’s Guide to Magical Combat will be out in autumn 2017, all published by Floris Books.

Lari Don is the award-winning author of more than 20 books for all ages, including fantasy novels for 8 – 12s, picture books, retellings of traditional tales, a teen thriller and novellas for reluctant readers.
Lari’s website 
Lari’s own blog 
Lari on Twitter 
Lari on Facebook

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Story fun for Advent by Hilary Hawkes

It's nearly that time again!

In the exciting build up to Christmas, children everywhere will be prising open little cardboard doors (or drawers on the more sophisticated types) and discovering Christmassy pictures (or sometimes not so Christmassy pictures), or finding yummy treats. 

Yes, I'm talking about Advent calenders.

If you're a story fan - a writer or a reader who wants to impart your love for books at every opportunity- then Advent is a great time to get children engaged with stories too.

Why not create an Advent calender that has that in mind? What could be better right now than an idea that gets children involved in stories and prepares them for Christmas all at the same time?

One way is to pick out your child's favourite Christmassy or winter tales - you could include library books to ensure you have plenty ie 24, one for each day of Advent. Wrap each book, or place them all in a decorated box, and let your child choose one a day until December 24th to share and enjoy.

Some Christmas titles

And these are some Christmas titles by SASSIE authors

....including Brenda Williams' Brown Bear, Reindeer and Co which is free to enjoy HERE

And Activity Village have lots of free stories and poems.HERE

Or here is how to use the stories for a Story And Advent Activity:

Using coloured card or paper cut out your Christmas tree shape.

Get your child to colour or decorate this and then hang or pin it up.

Encourage your child to choose one book a day.

When you snuggle up and share each story, get your child to draw or create a picture of something from it. They don't need to be van Gogh. All efforts are amazing! And just to prove it, hang or stick each day's masterpiece on the tree. Write the day's number on each picture. You willl have 24 by the end of Advent.

You could make the last day the Nativity story and perhaps decorate your Advent Story Tree with a star at the top.

Happy Advent, happy story sharing!

Merry Christmas, Little Owl! By Hilary Hawkes. A Christmas story with extra theme of being glad to be who you are!

Hilary Hawkes - Writer and children's author

Monday, 28 November 2016

Translating One - Clémentine Beauvais

I’ve just submitted to one of my French publishers, Rageot, the full first draft of my translation of Sarah Crossan’s One, to be published next year. Yes, I’ve had the privilege (and the insane good luck) to translate that wonderful, beautiful, exceptionally moving book into French.

Neither of Sarah’s verse novels has been translated into French yet, which is easy to understand: verse novels aren’t an easy candidate for translation. Plus, verse novels for teenagers are virtually unknown in France - when my own verse novel, Songe à la douceur, came out in August, my publisher Sarbacane put together a press release explaining that the format is well-known and popular in the UK and the US, and giving examples, because they knew it wasn’t going to be an easy sell.

Having seen that I’d just published a verse novel, Rageot, who are also bringing to the French market my Sesame Seade series next year (ironically, not translated by me), contacted me one day to ask me if I knew Sarah’s work - they’d just read One and were considering acquiring it. I replied immediately: ‘Of course I know it! Please acquire it! And can I please translate it?’ I’m generally not pushy with publishers, so that was very out of character, and possibly the brashest thing I’ve ever done. Amazingly, they said yes.

Translating One has been a scary experience, not just because it was the first time I’d translated a verse novel, but because it was also the first time I’d translated a novel, full stop (apart from my own translation into English of one of my French novels). I was acutely aware that I wasn’t a professional translator and that drawing from my experience of writing in two languages wasn’t enough; I got as much reading done on the matter as I could, talked to translator friends, and studied various theories of translation.

But of course, translating children’s literature has its own theories; translating poetry, yet more theories; translating novels, more so; etc. The answers just weren’t solely theoretical, and most of what I learned I learned on the go. Here are some of the most interesting challenges and difficulties I ran into while translating Sarah’s text.

An intriguing characteristic of One is that it’s a verse novel with only very few, very strategically-used rhymes. At the beginning, I was extremely keen to stick to what I interpreted as the ‘wishes’ of the text in that respect. But I found that it was actually very hard in French. French has many categories of words that end similarly - adjectives, past participles, verbs in the infinitive, etc. - so it was often tricky not to make two lines rhyme.

Not just tricky - unnatural. And, as I gradually decided, unnecessary. I warmed to the idea that rhyming would not be, as I’d first categorically ruled, an easy concession, a tacky poetic embellishment of a text that was, so to speak, ‘intentionally left blank’. I discovered that, in French, allowing rhymes to exist in their natural space rendered more accurately the fluidity of Sarah’s original text. 

The occasional ‘new’ rhymes also compensated for something that I often had to lose in translation, namely the very alliterative quality of the English language. Non-Latinate English words tend to be short, evocative in sound, often even onomatopoeic, perfect for poetic effect in brief lines, often of one or two words, sometimes one-letter words.

In French, this isn’t so easy. Many words are long, overloaded with prefixes and suffixes, and opting for lighter or more sonorous alternatives, while often possible, isn’t always desirable - Grace and Tippi’s words in the original text sound very natural, simple, instinctive, and I couldn’t have my French Tippi and Grace resort to lighter, but weirder, synonyms.

The added rhymes therefore ‘displaced’, so to speak, the sound effects internal to the lines in Sarah’s original text to the end of the lines; they moved musicality to a different place.

Another difficulty in French was to render the minimalistic aesthetic of Sarah’s language. There is something haiku-like to Sarah’s style, which works in English to a great extent because the grammar is so lightweight, with many optional words (especially articles), and minimal machinery for stringing clauses together. Authors can occult words they don’t want; translators can’t.

In fact, that very sentence - ‘Authors can occult words they don’t want; translators can’t’ - is a good example: in French, a literal translation would have to be ‘Les auteurs peuvent occulter les mots dont ils ne veulent pas; pas les traducteurs’, totalling 5 more words than the original English sentence. Such inflation is a well-known phenomenon in translation; texts are expected to swell in size from English to French.

This is all very well for a ‘normal’ novel, so to speak, but for a verse novel, we couldn’t have Sarah’s small lines suddenly take up a paragraph. Plus, her discreet use of ‘that’, ‘who’, ‘since’, ‘why’, etc - soft sounds in English - would be disastrously unpoetic in French: ‘que’, ‘qui’, ‘jusque’, ‘pourquoi’, are harsh-sounding, chunky words you don’t want to overuse.

One of the tricks I found was to resort to verb-less sentences, which in French are relatively rare but have a dreamlike, stream-of-consciousness quality that rendered, in some places, Grace’s reflections much more fluidly than the stolid French grammar would allow otherwise. I also very rarely fiddled with lines or enjambments, but I did when lines ended too clumsily on brick-like connectives like the ones listed above.

I can’t conceal that I’m a bit terrified, in part because it’s the first time and in part because I know that I’m not a professional translator. I’ve wrestled a lot with the nagging thought that I’m doing someone else’s work, and that I’ve come at it from a weird place. But I feel I’ve learned a lot, and worked and reworked again and changed my mind and fiddled and tweaked and rewritten; in other words, I’ve done my best. It’s now in my editors’ hands, and I look forward to reworking it, again, when it gets back to me.