Friday, 26 June 2009


Poignant news this week - that Siobhan Dowd has been awarded the 2009 Carnegie Medal for 'Bog Child'. This is wonderful news, but also so very sad because Siobhan died of cancer in 2007. Royalties from the sale of her four books go to the Siobhan Dowd Trust, which helps disadvantaged children. Her publisher, David Fickling, says: 'Children need stories. Siobhan believed that stories help children to think and if they can think, then they are free.'

Siobhan delivered four books in three years before her premature death at the age of 47 (though I'm inclined to think all death is premature when there's so much to learn, love and do in life).

Remember what writer Lisa Ratcliffe, who died a few months ago and who was a wonderful, feisty, resilient non-self-pitying voice right to the end, said: 'Writers, write!' As the advert has it, 'Simples!'

On a much more cheerful note, my younger son is fourteen today. He and his brother are gorgeous, bright and loving - having them in my life has been a privilege and joy which I wouldn't have missed for the world. I've been looking at photos of his extreme adorableness over the years and can't believe he's the age he is. (What a trite thing to say - but the swiftness of these years takes me by surprise all the time.) So it's lashings of Coke and loads of chocolate cake later - yay!

Friday, 19 June 2009

Would you credit it?

If you scroll down this blog to the 10th and 15th April, you'll find a couple of posts I wrote about 'Carrion Jane' - that is, the successful 'mash-up' novel called 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies'. Yes, really. It does exist. It is a success, though daunting when you come across it in a bookshop, with a lovely Regency miss in an Empire-line muslin dress but with the whole of her lower jawbone, teeth, sinews and gunk on full display. Quite puts one off one's afternoon tea.

I talked about how this success seems to be breeding more horror-lit mash-ups, and put forward a few spoof versions of my own, including 'Prince Albert, Royal Werewolf', tee hee. Well, hush my mouth, somebody must have been listening. In this week's 'Bookseller' Hodder and Stoughton announce that they've acquired 'Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter'! This worthy tome has been 'proactively' sought out because this is a 'growing area' (I better get back to my own list and get writing, then!) It was bought for a 'good five figure sum' through agent Antony Topping, who, by the way, is the agent who represents C.J. Sansom, a writer I much admire. Hmn. In the novel Queen Vic is a demon hunter who protects the empire from werewolves and demons. So now you know why she was none-too-amused. Maybe it was the empire on which the sun never set because if it did, all these nasty beasties would come creeping out of the woodwork. And maybe that's why Prince Albert (see above) had to die ...

If you're in any need of further ghoulish humour, how's this: Father's Day is nearly upon us and Tesco and W.H. Smith have both been taken to task for displaying 'The Crimes of Josef Frizl' as a book you might like to give to your dear old pa. Granted, it was only in a couple of stores, but really. The Lewisham branch of W.H. Smith had in it their 'Top 50 Books for Dad' display.

Stick to the slippers, the Simpsons tankard, the table snooker or the Old Spice gift set, I'd say.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Beanstalks and Movie Magic

Well, phew, elder son has now finished his AS levels. I'll draw a veil over the process, but my grey hair count is definitely up. I just have to see my students through their A levels, then there's the Winchester Writers' Conference, then my summer school at Oxford University's Department of Continuing Education, then ... HOLIDAY!

I'm sending Get Well wishes to Sally Zigmond, whose blog 'The Elephant in the Writing Room' is listed on my blog roll to the right. She's had a fall and broken her leg and has just come home from hospital. Her article on how to accept and act on criticism as a writer has just appeared in this month's 'Writing Magazine' - in it she quotes the lovely Jo Derrick, who edits the Yellow Room Magazine, and my good self (although the editor has spelt my name wrong. Sigh. It's a double 's', you know). Thanks for the mention, Sally, and all the best for your recovery.

Also on my blog roll is the wonderful Tess Gerritsen, who is currently debating the usefulness of online promotion for writers. Her feeling is that traditional methods have worked for her, but then she is an already-established writer (and she is astute enough to be using online methods as well.) The problem is that it is very hard to gauge exactly how much effect on sales there is. She does feel, and I agree, that online presence is a wonderful thing for the new or 'mid-list' author, as you can make contact with so many people at such little expense.

Here is a quote from her post of 27th May: 'But the most important thing you can do as a writer is to write. Write the next book. And the next ... If you write two books a year, that's twice a year readers and booksellers will encounter your name. But these books must be good books. That's the given in all this promotional talk. The books must make a reader want to pick up your next book.'

'Two books a year!' I hear you squeak. Bloody hell!

And they've got to be 'good books' too? Have mercy!

I've talked about this conundrum before - to be a success, you need to be churning out the words at a stunning rate. You need to be full of mental energy, commitment and industry, you need to be your own publicist and marketeer - and to top it all, you need to be hitting your literary peak at all times. Yet, when you read articles, how-to books and interviews, you come across the view that a good work of fiction needs time to brew, time to mature, time for plot-lines to develop, characters to grow, themes and notions to coalesce: writing a novel is not like Jack chucking the magic beans out of the window and next morning finding a fully-grown beanstalk leading up to the clouds, the castle, the riches. Your book needs time - but the industry dictates that you work to a timetable. How to resolve this?

While you ponder these deep and worrying issues, perhaps you'd like a little light relief: but I warn you, this is yet another cunning scheme Karen of 'Get On With It' and Lane of 'Lane's Write' have come up with in their plan to stop all the rest of us ever getting on with our work - leaving the field clear for them. Yes, ladies, I'm onto you! If you are not inclined to heed my warnings, head over to their blogs, also on the blogroll and enjoy some movie magic.