Sunday, 29 March 2015

Anna's Adventures in Wonderland - Anna Wilson

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Twenty years ago I was working as an editor at Macmillan Children's Books when the 130th anniversary of Alice was marked by Macmillan issuing the beautiful new full-colour editions of both Alice books. They were the first ever full-colour editions featuring Tenniel's illustrations.

In publishing parlance, Alice is a "property" of Macmillan, as the publisher holds the rights to the versions of the books illustrated by Tenniel. Of course, many different illustrators have produced beautiful artwork to accompany other editions of the Alice stories, but it is the Tenniel editions that are widely believed by enthusiasts to be THE Alices. Indeed it is the Tenniel images that most of us conjure up when we think of Alice stuck inside the house or taking tea with the Mad Hatter or standing up to the Red Queen.

Tenniel himself never produced colour illustrations: he created the black and white line drawings only. The first colour versions of his drawings were done by Harry Theaker, and then only eight colour plates were done for each book.

By 1995 colour printing had of course moved on leaps and bounds, so Macmillan felt the time had come to make use of this for Alice. They commissioned artist Diz Wallis to colour the remaining Tenniel black and whites. It was fascinating to see how Diz did this. Macmillan provided her with faint blue outlines of the original illustrations and she then painted them, being very careful to match Harry Theaker's style.

Diz Wallis's beautiful colouring followed Harry Theaker's style 

As the editor I then had to go through the setting of the text with a fine toothcomb to ensure that the resulting text was as close the original hot-metal setting as possible. This meant going so far as to check the spaces in between text and punctuation, as modern computerised setting techniques do not produce the same, airy quality that the old hot-metal work had done.

During that time I also wrote an Alice in Wonderland Party Book, compiled a book of quotations entitled "Curiouser and Curiouser!" and put together a selection of the songs and poems included in the Alice books. By the end of that year I could reel off whole sections of either book at the drop of a hat.

It seems that Alice is a figure who will not leave me alone. Over the years she and I have crossed paths so many times: from my sister-in-law's 21st Alice-themed birthday party where I was consultant Alice-ologist, to my daughter's GCSE Art coursework, Alice seems to pop up time and again. But more importantly, were it not for Alice I might not today be a published author myself. My boss at the time saw how much I enjoyed working on the little side projects mentioned above and as a consequence asked me to try my hand at writing a picture book (wholly unrelated to Alice). My first picture book, Over in the Grasslands, was published in 1999, and I have not looked back since.

Macmillan is still my publisher, 16 years on. I very much doubt anyone will remember me in 150 years time as we do Charles Dodgson and John Tenniel, but I am enjoying my time as a writer in the here and now, and for that I think it only right to say thank you to Alice and for all that she has taught me.

This will be my last ABBA post. I am sad to be leaving as I have thoroughly enjoyed writing for the blog, but family issues that have arisen this year are making it difficult to carve out time to write and so, unfortunately, I have had to take a long hard look at my commitments. If I am going to complete the books I am currently writing, I shall need to follow Alice down the rabbit hole and spend some time finding peace in an enchanted garden for a while. Thank you for having me at ABBA!

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Book Fair Nightmares - Clémentine Beauvais

The Paris Book Fair has just ended and, on the French closed Facebook group for authors that I'm a part of, there's been some nostalgic recollections of cult moments from book fairs.

By 'cult moments', I mean those moments when you'd really like to... not be at the book fair.

Because, of course, book-signing is HUGE FUN, especially the French way (2 days on end, for 3 to 5 hours at a time with a lunch break)... You know that time when you're behind your table and you've been signing for hours and your hand hurts like hell? No? Me neither. 

A Book Fair

Here are the 'classics', that everyone's had to endure:

- 'Hi!'
[You, hopeful]: 'Hi!'
'Where's the toilet?'

- 'Hi!'
[You, still hopeful]: 'Hi!'
'Do you know if [famous author] is coming?'

- 'Can you sign this book for my son?'
'I can't, it's not mine, it's Harry Potter.'
'Oh, it doesn't matter, just sign it, will you?'
(alternative version: 'Oh, don't worry, J.K. Rowling will never know!')

- 'Can you draw a little something?'
'I can't, I'm a writer.'
'Can't you try?'

Book fairs are stressful and awkward. You're there with your piles of books, and people drift by, and conspicuously avoid looking at you in the eye when they pick up your book and decide that they DEFINITELY do NOT want it. Or, that they do NOT want their child to have it.

'Put that down!!! Can't you tell it's a girls' book?'

I could have killed that woman, but I only had books and books make terrible weapons.

Sometimes they say, 'I'll have a look around and come back'.
--> HA no you won't.

Sometimes you manage to talk to them a bit and try to handsell your own book (epitome of cringe):

'So it's about three teenage girls, it's a road trip but kind of a maturity tale too [dammit, in which pocket of my brain did I put my elevator pitch?]'
The Parent: 'Hmm. Do you have something a bit like Cherub? My daughter only reads things like Cherub. Do you have a saga? Your books aren't very big. She only likes big books.'

Life is just great right then.

Oh and that:

'NOOOOO I don't want the lady to sign the book!!!' 'But my darling, it's the only reason we bought it!'

There's also those book fairs when you're sitting next to Big Name Author so you kind of become the crowd control person for their line. Don't push! Sir, you're skipping the queue. It's that way. Yes, he's here until ten past. No, he's run out of that picturebook, but there's this one too, which is great too.  Wait, why am I promoting his picturebooks? He hasn't even talked to me!

ZOMG Big Name Author is talking to me!
'Hey, Capucine... Clémence... Célestine... whatever your name is, do you have another Sharpie?'

Then there's the times when you're sitting next to a sleazeball of an author in mid-life crisis who spends most of the very empty afternoon giving outfit suggestions.

'You see, Clementine, this morning I was looking at girls in the harbour and I realised I really like nude back tops. Wouldn't you wear a nude back top?'

How many more hours of this again?

The kids who want you to sign their school diary. Their pencil-cases. Their hands. A Post-it note. Because they are 100% cute, you do it, dying a little bit inside. 'Don't you want to buy the book?' you ask feebly. So feebly that they don't hear you at all and go spend their book voucher on a Frozen book of stickers.

'things we sign'

That woman who stared at me for ten seconds. Ten seconds is a long time to be stared at. And then:
'How old are you?'
(With 'tu', not 'vous'. T'as quel âge, toi? Written language can't convey the disdain.)


But then there's...

Those book fairs which are right by Lake Geneva or the Atlantic ocean.

Those book fairs when kids come back to meet you because they've read the books and studied them in class and you went to their school for a visit.
bonus point if their face is actually an emoticon     
Authors you meet and who are NOT huge sleazeballs and who make these long afternoons and mornings seem very short.

Insa Sané
Zad et Didier

And who are talented illustrators, and play the ukulele, and are actually Keith Richards.

François Place

Nathalie Tual

Keith Richards. Maybe.
And people who bring you pastries or coffee purely out of sympathy GOD I LOVE THESE PEOPLE THANK YOU 

There's always an 'end-of-summer-camp' atmosphere when book fairs are over. We say goodbye, thank you for the good times, I still owe you a drink, really nice to have met you, finally, really nice to see you again, looking forward to when that book you were telling me about comes out. See you soon at another book fair, maybe! No doubt. But probably in a year or two. You'll have had that baby by then... yes, hopefully! Will the next book fair be as disastrous? I never want to do another book fair. Will the next book fair be as amazing? I don't want to go home! How many books did you sell? ... Ha, me neither.

It's exhausting, hilarious, terrifying and nightmarish. The next one for me is in less than two weeks' time. Can't wait.


Clementine Beauvais writes in French and English. She blogs here about children's literature and academia.

Friday, 27 March 2015

It's all in the research...Lynn Huggins-Cooper

In last month's post I talked about cheating on my current WIP with a new idea...well, it was one of those delious ideas that 'has legs' - so I have run with it. Despite being in the middle of a huge educational writing project, with proofs arriving every day and demanding my attention, my head has been swimming with ideas. I've been a bit naughty and rather encouraged it by collecting reasearch materials. I revel in this stage of writing.
When I was writing 'Walking With Witches,' I spent a lot of time in situ at The Lit and Phil library and at the castle keep in Newcastle, where part of the story was set. It helped me to soak in the atmosphere, but it also gave me access to all manner of resources such as old documents and artefacts that helped me to get into 'the zone.'
This current WIP (it has become that now; its legs are that strong) is a real departure for me - for a start, it is for the adult market. Up until now, I have only written non-fiction books for adults so that feels rather strange. My postman has realised that a new project is afoot, because we are getting more mail. Odd tomes ordered online; strangely shaped parcel of things I just have to test before I can write about them with any degree of authenticity...bliss.

Does the photo give you any clues about my new idea? It is drawing together so many things I know about, and have lived, that it feels 'right' somehow. I suppose I am finally 'writing what I know' - and on that note, I'd better get back to it!

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Did someone ask you to write books? by Cavan Scott

Yesterday, I popped into my youngest daughter's class for the afternoon. They'd been learning about pirates all term, so she'd asked me to go into school and read a chapter of my Angry Birds Treasure Island book.

Afterwards, the class set about asking me questions they'd prepared that morning.

Right at the end of the Q&A session, a girl at the back put up her hand.

"Did someone ask you to become a writer," she asked, "or did you just decide to do it anyway?"

What a brilliant question!

The great thing about being a writer is that you don't need anyone's permission. If you want to write, just write.

Yes, getting something published can be more difficult. There are a lot of gatekeepers out there, from agents to the publishers themselves, but no one can stop you creating.

I realise that this isn't particularly profound or maybe even original point, but its one I needed yesterday, on one of those days when it feels like you're hitting your head against a particularly thick wall.

In future, on days like that, I'm going to remember that question.

And then write.


Cavan Scott is the author of over 70 books and audio dramas including the Sunday Times Bestseller, Who-ology: The Official Doctor Who Miscellany, co-written with Mark Wright.

He's written for Doctor WhoSkylandersAdventure Time, Angry Birds, Penguins of Madagascar and Warhammer 40,000 among others. He also writes Roger the Dodger and Bananaman for The Beano as well as books for reluctant readers of all ages.

Cavan's website
Cavan's facebook fanpage
Cavan's twitterings

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

If Carslberg Did School Events by Tamsyn Murray

OK, OK, so maybe that title isn't the best on to associate with schools but you get the idea: if Carlsberg did school events did, they'd probably be the best school events in the world. And that got me thinking about what constitutes the Perfect Author Visit. Here's what I came up with:

  • Reserved parking space if needed (Desirable)
  • Office Staff are expecting you (Desirable)
  • Offer of (non-alcoholic) drink on arrival (Desirable)
  • Staff member who booked you or their counterpart is available to meet you when you arrive and to guide you to where you need to be. (Essential)
  • Children are expecting you (Essential)
  • Children have been reading your work and looking at your website (Desirable)
  • Someone introduces you to them (Desirable)
  • IT works OK - Powerpoint works (Essential)
  • Pupils as questions (Desirable)
  • Cake in staffroom (Desirable)
  • Regular offers of tea and coffee (Essential)
  • Breaks (Essential)
  • Parents are aware you are coming in - have had letters sent home for WEEKS (Essential)
  • Pupils are aware they can get a personally signed book of their very own (Essential)
  • Someone on the staff thank you to you (Desirable)
  • Pupils listen and say thank you (Desirable)
  • More cake (Desirable)
  • If you're doing workshops, pupils have time to finish the work in subsequent lessons (Essential)
  • Pupils buy all the books you have (Desirable)
  • Pupils get in touch afterwards to say how much they loved the book (Desirable)
  • Prompt payment if not part of book promo (Desirable)
  • Happiness all round! (Desirable)
 And then I woke up and it had all been a dream...

So what are your must-haves for school visits? All of the above? None of the above? Let me know!

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

I'm so excited (and I just can't hide it) - Liz Kessler

I’m very, very excited today (so excited, in fact, that I have saved the blog I was going to post today for another time so I could share this instead!) Here’s why…

Waterstones Hampstead have just – today – made the announcement that they are holding a public launch event for my first YA novel, Read Me Like A Book.

Regular followers of this blog will know what this book means to me. For those who don’t, you could have a quick catch up by checking out this blog…or just read on.

Read Me Like A Book was the first novel I wrote. But somewhere in the middle of writing it, I also started thinking up a children’s story about a girl who becomes a mermaid when she goes in water. The girl was Emily Windsnap, and her series is swimming nicely in waters all around the world. On the other hand, nobody wanted to publish Read Me Like A Book. The book was about a seventeen-year-old girl coming out, and LGBT issues were not de rigueur back then. A nasty little law known as Section 28 was still in place, and many people – publishers, teachers, librarians etc etc – were kept firmly in place by its instruction not to ‘promote homosexuality.’

But let’s not dwell on that right now, because today we’re EXCITED. So let’s skip forward a decade or so and briefly glance at my mobile phone from a day in November 2013. I’ve just had a very special lunch where my wonderful agent has told my lovely publisher that we want to publish the book. Too many things had been happening that had made me want to stop sitting idly by, and instead want be part of the movement that was telling young people it is OK to be whoever you are. 

Following the meeting, my phone beeps. It’s my publisher. The text says: ‘Looking forward to reading the manuscript again. Times have changed and we are ready to move with them.’

That text pretty much kept me warm all winter.

Skip forward again. To early-ish this year. The book is due out in May. Proofs are out and about. People are talking about it. A couple of HUGE names in the book world have read it and given me quotes for the cover. The Bookseller's Charlotte Eyre mentions it in passing on Radio Four's Open Book! People are TALKING ABOUT IT!

Even though this is going to be my fifteenth book to be published, I feel like a debut author. And in a way, I am. Because this was – and always will be – the first novel I wrote. It is also the first YA book I have published. Perhaps it is the first big risk I’ve taken in my career. It’s certainly the first time I have put something out there that feels quite so important and personal for me. See, the mermaids and the fairies and the time travel books – they came from me, they have things in them that are deeply important to me. They are like my babies, all of them. But to write a book about a girl discovering her lesbian identity, when you have recently come out publicly yourself – that takes the excitement, the risk, the nerves to a WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOLE new level!

So let’s get to the point. 

The point is that today, Waterstones in Hampstead have announced the event that they are hosting to launch my special baby out into the world. It is a public event, which means a) it is open to anyone and everyone and b) it is ticketed. Tickets are £5 (or £3 with a Waterstones card). However, I think they’re quite good value, because as well as listening to me talk about the book, you also get a glass of Prosecco and £2 off the book on the night!

And if all of this wasn’t exciting enough (it isn’t. Read on) we have got the most wonderful special guest taking part.

Ruth Hunt, Chief Executive of the incredible LGBT campaigning group Stonewall, is my guest speaker!!!

I don’t know about you, but I am practically hyperventilating with excitement about all of this. (OK, some of it is nerves – but mostly excitement. And I am probably more excited than you are, to be fair.)

The date of the launch (and publication of the book) is May 14th. It's at 6.45 pm. And you are ALL INVITED!!!! If you want to come, get in touch with Yael Tishchler from Waterstones, who is organising the event. Here’s how you can do that:

Call her on: 0207 794 1098
Tweet her via @WaterstonesNW3 or @TischforTat
Or use some other old-fangled way of getting in touch with her at Waterstones Hampstead.

Hope to see you there - and thank you for letting me shout about this today. (I might have burst otherwise.)

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Monday, 23 March 2015

4 pieces of popular advice that I ended up ignoring – Jess Vallance

Last time, I wrote about that old writing adage – ‘never give up’ – and how I gradually realised it was OK to ignore it sometimes. And when I started thinking about it, I realised there were actually quite a few other bits of advice that fall into the same category – tips that popped up everywhere, but when I got down to putting them into practice, I started to think maybe they weren’t all they were cracked up to be. 

To be clear here, I’m not saying that the advice I’m going to cover is never helpful. I’m sure there are lots of people who’ll read this who’d swear by some – or all – of these tips. My point is, when you’re new (like I am), if you read the same advice more than a few times, you start to think maybe you’re doing something wrong if you doubt them. It can be reassuring to find out that they didn’t work for everyone and you’re not going mad. 

So, these are the tips I’m talking about – and how I’d modify them to make them more useful.  

1. The advice said: Write for an hour a day/Set aside your writing time/Write at the same time each day.

I wonder where this preoccupation with time comes from. I think maybe it’s the world of full-time employment where being seen to be at your desk from 9 till 5.30 is the main indication of productivity. But when you’re paid and judged on the words on the page, I think the time it took to get them there isn’t really relevant.

I can see how setting aside an hour (or whatever) a day is a good way to help you build a routine, but the problem is, lots of things can happen (or not happen) in an hour. You might storm it and write two thousand spellbinding words, but you might spend 45 minutes refreshing Twitter and 15 minutes scouring lists of Japanese baby names for the perfect name for a character who appears in one paragraph on page 86. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m well into goals and getting on with things, but I think this kind of advice would be more helpful if it was focused more around output than hours.

So, I’d say: Set a weekly word count goal.

2. The advice said: Cut, cut, cut. Cut everything. Your second draft should be at least twenty percent shorter than your first.
No one wants to waffle on too much and bore people, so this used to worry me. When I’d finished writing something, I’d duly go through and cut anything that could be considered redundant – adjectives, dialogue, observations. The only thing was, it turned out that I have the opposite problem: I am an ‘under-writer'. I don’t explain things enough. I can be terse. 

I’m not saying everything I write is beautiful and people only ever ask for more – of course there were some bits that were crap and had to be ditched – but when I started working with people who know (agents and editors), most of the comments I got were about elaborating on ideas, developing dialogue and clearing up ambiguity - all just as important as cutting out the waffle.

 My book (Birdy) was 3000 words longer post-edit than it had been when I submitted it. 

So, I’d say: Cut the bad stuff, but also make sure the good stuff is on the page, not just in your head.

3. The advice said: Write the book you want to write.

I’ve swayed between both extremes with this one. I tried to write book that I had almost no interest in based on what I thought would be easiest to sell. It didn’t work. 

I also tried following the advice to the letter and started work on a book that I thought would be fun to write. In my case, I started something in the form of instant messages and emails. In truth, it was basically me venting my pet peeves about other people’s online habits. I amused myself writing about ten pages – it was quite cathartic – but I quickly realised this wasn’t a book for readers. 

I suppose it’s about balance. You have to enjoy it enough to have the passion to get to the end, but ultimately, it needs to be something other people want to read or you might as well be keeping a diary. 

So, I’d say: Write the book you'd want to read.

4. The advice said: Have lots of beta readers.

Like all the others items in this post, this advice totally makes sense in theory. It’s impossible to properly critique something you’ve written yourself, so getting other people to take a look is the obvious thing to do. But I think it is possible to take this tip to heart and get it wrong.

When I was about two thirds of my way down my road to getting published, I decided that I could no longer be trusted to know good from bad and that I would put myself in the hands of some readers – all carefully chosen, either for their industry expertise or just because I thought they’d know a good story when they saw it (or didn’t see it as the case may be).

They were all great. They all sent me careful, insightful comments and suggestions. My problem was, I tried to take them all into account. Lots of them were different – completely opposing in some cases – but I decided to try to work it all in, even when I wasn’t one hundred percent sold on the idea. Of course, this meant I wasn’t one hundred percent sold on the end result. And neither was anyone else. 

I think two handy rules of thumb are:

  1.  If lots of people you trust say the same thing, they’re probably right.
  2. If people pick up on something you already sort of suspected yourself, they’re probably right.
But not every person who reads a book and makes a comment will be right or sensible or helpful. And anyway, for all we know they might just be saying anything at all just to make us shut up and stop bothering them with our amateurish nonsense. 

(As a side note, the most successful of my writing efforts – the one that’s going to be published – didn’t have any readers at all. The only people who’ve read it as far as I know are my agent and my publisher. It’s exactly as I wanted it to be. So if it’s a huge flop I’ll have no one to blame but myself. And them.)

So, I’d say: Follow advice you believe in but don’t let too many cooks spoil the story.