Tuesday, 27 October 2009

PS - more on sequels, and Fanfiction

It's not just And Another Thing.There is a positive slew of sequels around. In children's books we had last year Geraldine McCaughrean's Peter Pan in Scarlet and now a "new" Winnie-the-Pooh book and indeed Hilary McKay's sequel to Frances Hodgson Burnet's A Little Princess. (That one's called Wishing for Tomorrow and I would have reviewed it here if Hodder had responded to my request for a copy).

In the world of adult books, sequels and prequels to the classics from Jane Austen to Daphne du Maurier have always been popular. (I blame Jean Rhys myself and the wildly overrated Wide Sargasso Sea, which opened the floodgates). Recently even Sebastian Faulks has produced a "James Bond."

But how different is this from fan fiction? It does the same thing, using characters and settings already provided by the first author and creating new plots. So it's only the quality of the pastiche that is an issue. Sometimes it's very successful:I'm a huge fan of Leon Garfield's completion of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which is almost a sequel, and Gilbert Adair's very stylish Alice Through the Needle's Eye. And I remember how much my daughter loved Silver's Revenge, Robert Leeson's sequel to Treasure Island.

I had to stop reading my own fan fiction on www.fanfiction.net because it was having a disastrous effect on my own writing! I was writing a pastiche of myself. So I drop in every now and again to see things like which characters from Stravaganza are attracting the most interest and so on. But I don't read it.

And I've never written a sequel to anyone else's fiction, though I had a very good idea for Five Grandchildren and It but was sort of beaten to it by Helen Cresswell. I imagine editors all over the UK are eyeing up children's classics and thinking what to plunder next.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

The last bastion of snobbery

Sorry for the hiatus, everyone; I've been in France. (If you want to know why you can read my more domestic blog on www.maryhoffman.co.uk)

One morning while I was there I caught part of a TV book programme that practically made me want to emigrate. Umberto Eco and Jean-Claude Carrière were being interviewed about a book they had written together called N'espérez pas vous débarrasser des livres. My French is far from perfect but I did understand Professor Eco to say that if Robinson Crusoe had been stranded on his island with some form of e-reader, his battery would have run out within hours, whereas the Bible he had with him kept him going for 21 years!

So, I think these long-headed fellows were talking about the durability and other advantages of printed books over electronic ones. Anyway, it made me think of another advantage - or disadvantage, depending on your point of view.

How will you be able to judge the taste, education, enthusiasms and background of a person whose home you enter if the day ever comes when you can't browse their bookshelves? What will happen to judging a person by the books they keep? You can't very well ask to look at their Kindle index, can you?

If I see someone has a good set of obviously read Dickens, Austen, Trollope, say for starters, I know we'll have something to talk about. Likewise The Myth of the Goddess or If This is a man or If on a Winter's Night a Traveller ...or Ulysses (unread copies don't count) or lots of books on mythology.

If, on the other hand, it's all Dan Brown and Kate Mosse, I know that whatever else we might have in common, it won't be our taste in literature. And people can be so hard to read, I'll really miss that useful set of clues when all their choices are hidden inside an A5 sized machine with a battery.

Monday, 12 October 2009

And Another Thing

And Another Thing is a brilliant title for a sequel and has the merit of being taken from Douglas Adams' own joke. I have always been a huge H2G2 fan, from the first time I tuned into it accidentally on the radio. But not a nerd, geek or obsessive I want to point out. Still I wasn't all that happy when I heard Eoin Colfer had been asked to write a sequel.

I believe Colfer is a lovely fellow (he even once said very nice things about one of my books in an Irish newspaper) but I read Artemis Fowl, didn't enjoy it, and felt no inclination to read any more.

There is a certain type of middle-aged man who has never quite got over or past the details of the alimentary system and, although this humour is supposed to be specially appealing to children, it never did to me and it doesn't now. In other words enough with the poo jokes!

So I was sceptical - along with gazillions of other fans, apparently. Colfer was even invited, randomly, by Facebook to join a group petitioning to stop him writing "Part Six of Three" as And Another Thing is so waggishly labelled. Being a sport, he joined.

But - much to my surprise - I loved this sequel! Colfer, whose book is being serialised on Radio 4's Book at Bedtime from tonight, is being trailed several times a day saying that the characters are Adams' but the book is his own. This is not quite true. What he has produced is a brilliant pastiche of Adams' Hitchhiker style, especially in the notes from the Guide.

Arthur Dent is not so prominent but Ford, Zaphod and Trillian are much in evidence. Characters that fans will miss are Marvin (the paranoid android) and perhaps Slartibartfast, though he is nicely referenced in the fjord-heavy geography of the planet Nano.

Characters there are a bit too much of are Random Dent and Trillian, who has degenerated from a clever astro-physicist into some sort of Glenda Slagg. New characters include Hillman Hunter (like Ford Prefect - geddit?) who is a joke Irishman, a personage Colfer is well able to stereotype.

I wonder whether what I enjoyed was Adams or Colfer - in other words the being back in that universe, peopled with Vogons and their dreadful poetry, Magratheans who build customised planets, the god Thor, who has an embarrassing video to live down, and the megalomaniac Zaphod with his stolen spaceship, Heart of Gold.

Whatever, I'm grateful to Colfer for bringing all this back to life. And another thing, if he'd just eliminate [sic] all the bottom stuff, I might even read another of Eoin Colfer's books.

Friday, 9 October 2009

It's Mal Peet!

Mal Peet's win of the Guardian Children's Book Prize was announced at their swanky new offices in King's Place last night. Exposure is the third in Mal's "football" series set in South America and , incredibly, only his fourth book. (His Tamar won the Carnegie Medal).

I haven't read Exposure (am really put off by the footballing setting, even though I know that's not what the book is "about") but I know there's a re-working of Othello in there and parallels with Posh and Becks (I don't think he'd dare strangle her).

Last year's winner, Patrick Ness, made a generous announcement speech after Julia Eccleshare had been through all the longlisted books, which was also nice for the authors there who hadn't quite made it to the shortlist.

And then Mal, appearing fleetingly like Boris Johnson in his astonishment at having won, made an amusing speech and was given a framed mocked up Guardian front-page. He had been unkind about the paper in Exposure and reckoned that the amount he had spent on buying it for 35 years meant, even with his award cheque, the Guardian was still quids in.

Mal was a co-judge, with me and Jenny Valentine last year when The Knife of Never Letting Go won and now he will have another go because part of the prize is to be judge next time. It's the only children's book prize judged by fellow-writers and a lovely one to win. Congratulations to Mal.

The other two judge were Celia Rees and Andy Stanton and the award is chaired by Julia Eccleshare.

Friday, 2 October 2009


The one underneath is by Waterhouse and, apart from the typical pre-Raphaelite red tinge to the hair, is most people's idea of the typical mermaid - young, beautiful, slim, with an obsession with haircare.

When I invented one in Mermaid and Chips (a Banana Book for Heinemann) twenty years ago, I thought "If mermaids are half-woman, half-fish, how come the female half is always the SAME kind of woman?"

So my Marlene was plump and middle-aged - more barmaid than mermaid - and rather brassy and vulgar. So, another stereotype, but at least a different one.

The mermaids in Michelle Lovric's The Undrowned Child (Orion) have learned their way of talking from pirates, so have rather salty turns of phrase, which take us a long way from Waterhouse. Their taste in food is also spicy, since they are great fans of curry. And they are vegetarians, like their author - and me - so I felt an immediate affinity with them.

They are only one aspect of a book absolutely stuffed with adventure - sharks, living statues, winged lions, ghosts, villains, spells, carnivorous seagulls and a headless butcher - and set in Venice, where Lovric lives for part of the year. It's quite gory in places but with a very feisty heroine in Teodora (Teo) who deals fearlessly with everything the resurrected evil Bajamonte Tiepolo throws at her. Teo is not a mermaid but has miraculously survived an accident at sea in which everyone else was drowned. But she is a water-baby and much helped by the cursing, curry-eating mermaids.

In fact, I'm beginning to think that mermaids are less, well, WET, than they used to be. Liz Kessler, also pubished by Orion, has a series of books about Emily Windsnap, an ordinary girl who finds that she becomes a mermaid whenever she enters the water. (This was incredibly inconvenient at school swimming lessons in the first book). Kessler has a fourth book out, Emily Windsnap and the Siren's Secret, with the series' signature gorgeously gold-sprinkled jacket. (Orion do produce seriously wonderful book jackets).

I recently interviewed Liz Kessler, along with Linda Chapman, "Titania Woods" and Elizabeth Lindsay on the subjects of fairies, mermaids, unicorns and all the things that feature in "pink" series books for girls. (Liz also writes the popular Philippa Fisher series about a girl with a fairy godsister). She said then that it wasn't actually the fairies or the mermaids that attracted her. "I am attracted by an idea for a story, and by characters, in the same way that I imagine all writers are."

And she loves the "what if" principle of fiction that can turn girls into mermaids or daisies int fairies. But she is adamant that her heroines are proactive and adventurous and that boys would enjoy the stories too if they could only get past the stereotyped notion that images like Waterhouse's conjure up.

There's a programme all about mermaids next Tuesday on Radio 4 (11.30am on 5th October). I wonder if it will deal with Lorelei and Melusines, Rhinemaidens and Sirens? Because those amoral creatures aren't girly at all.