Wednesday, 31 March 2010

To blog or not to blog

This was the name of the talk Rhiannon Lassiter and I gave at the Society of Authors CWIG meeting last night, but it was about all forms of social networking for writers. In the picture, as well as Rhiannon and me, is Celia Rees - just because she was there and is lovely.

I had calculated that the members might be divided into rough thirds: those who were scared of technology an didn't know how to use it; those who who were moderately involved, for example having a website and blog but not being sure they were making the most of these; and those who were up to date and confident.

In the end, the first third were in the majority and the last third under-represented.(Possibly because Lucy Coats and Anne Rooney couldn't get a ticket and Candy Gourlay was at the launch for Jonathan Mayhew's Mortlock.)

Rhiannon had made a great PowerPoint and I had done some handouts. It was pretty intense and people did very well to stay engaged till the end. I hope it will lead to more bravery for people teetering on the brink and encourage them to take the plunge - after all, the water's lovely.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Bologna Day 3

What you see here are the two halves of the Bologna Book Fair. On the one hand the stands where the formal business is done: the deals proposed, the quantities and advances haggled over. On the other, the social side, where publishers meet other publishers and, if you are very lucky, writers.

The Maven has been extraordinarily lucky at all the 10 Bolognas she has attended so far and many nice dinners have been had at the venue you see above: Da Fabio. There is no menu and very few tables and it is in a semi-basement but if you haven't booked by January, forget it. Apparently Orion were entertaining Michelle Paver too, the night I was there but we were oblivious of any other party.

Meanwhile, back at the fair, I had long talks with Benedicte Page, who was writing about the Fair for the Bookseller, Barrington Stoke, Walker Books and Bloomsbury. I never did manage to squeeze in Usborne but I did see the huge poster on their stand for Lee Weatherly's Angel, which is tipped to be big.

Lunch was with Fiona Kenshole, formerly a publisher in the UK and now Acquisitions and Development VP with Laika Entertainment in the US, an animation film studio. Fiona's first acquisition to be made was Neil Gaiman's Coraline, which was nominated for an Oscar. Fiona's friend Debbie Kovacs from Waldenmedia told us, to my delight, that there is going to be a film of Ingrid Law's Savvy, a book Alisha Niehaus, my editor at Dial acquired and gave me in 2008.

We also met John McLay, the formidably knowledgeable literary scout, who was in the Agents' Centre, a very civilised and airy first floor area with its own bar (and loos - v. important at Bologna). He is working his way through all the books about angels.

Paranormal romance is still very much the flavour of teen fiction at the Fair, as all those vampire and werewolf books work their way through the system, but there are definitely more angels, demons and ghosts this year.

I shall be writing fuller articles for Armadillo online and for Carousel magazine's Summer issue so will let you know here when they are published but I hope these last three posts have given you some of the flavour of what it's like to be in the halls at the Bologna Book Fair.

Bologna Day 2

This gives you some idea of what the bigger "stands" at the fair look like. Penguin, Random House, Macmillan, HarperCollins, Scholastic, Walker, Hachette all have big display areas with huge posters and a sort of counter with a receptionist or two. But most publishers have a much more modest set-up with a few tables and chairs where Rights people are meeting foreign publishers every half hour in a schedule with back-to-back appointments.

The Maven had quite a few appointments on day two as well - with Kate Wilson who is starting a new Imprint called Nosy Crow and Emma Hopkin, the Managing Director at Macmillan, who have a huge range of titles and are the umbrella for many imprints.

At lunchtime I quickly switched hats from journalist to writer and had lunch with my Turkish publisher for Stravaganza, who invited me to Turkey next April. On the principle of always excepting invitations to countries (or states) I have never visited, I was very happy to say yes. Tudem are based in Izmir but author visits usually take place in Istanbul.

Then in quick succession I saw my Spanish, Icelandic and Finnish publishers of Stravaganza. (Sigga, the Icelandic one was a bonus - I didn't know she was going to be there). It was all good news with the other two. And then it was time for my own party, where I met lots more publishers, this time for the Great Big Book of Families (Frances Lincoln).

There were editor from the Faroe Islands to China and a wonderful mix of invitees and gatecrashers (all welcome and relevant).

So it was a good day for me in both capacities and I did feel, even if from a rather biased perspective, that the children's book world is picking itself up and putting itself back on its feet after the initial shock of the recession.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Bologna Day 1

After a not entirely uneventful journey, your Maven arrived in Bologna, having met at the airport Rod Campbell and three agents whose Easyjet flights had been cancelled at the last minute. We all travelled together by train from Verona and I picked up three sets of Rights list before arriving at my hotel!

How glad we were that this was right opposite the station. Ironically after all the BA palaver, we arrived earlier than would otherwise have been the case and were able to get to the SCBWI party. The photo above shows Candy Gourlay, John Shelley, Peter Taylor and Rhiannon Lassiter in what was probably the widest part of the venue.

This was a bookshop, taken over entirely by SCBWIers at what they call their Closing Party but was for us just the start of all the fun of the Fair. It was nice to see old friends like John Shelley, Erzi Deak and Bridget Strevens-Marzo, who all contributed to Lines in the Sand, the anti-war anthology I put together with my daughter, Rhiannon Lassiter, in such a mad three months in 2003.

And newer friends, like Candy Gourlay, one of several SCBWIers who is now about to be published (Tall Story, David Fickling Books later this year).

Tuesday was our main day for trawling the halls - 25, 26, 29 and 30 - which cover most UK, US and European publishers, as well as the Far East. It is tough on the feet and the back muscles, since you pick up catalogues at so many stands.

The general feeling is that this year's Fair is much busier and more upbeat than last year's. The big news of Day One was that David Almond has been awarded the prestigious international Hans Andersen Award - a very popular choice with the British contingent. My Internet connection is not functioning that well here but what I can see of Twitter and Facebook is heaving with congratulations for this modest and talented writer.

More anon ...

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Blogging from Bologna

Well, after a lot of anxiety about BA flights and last-minute changes of plan, I am cautiously optimistic that your Book Maven will arrive in Bologna on Monday for three days at the fair.

I hope to post something here on each of the three days - complete with photos, if I remember all my cables, chargers and adaptors.

It reminds me , since I first blogged as the Maven on our return from Bologna last year, that this blog is coming up to an anniversary.

So - drumroll - on 1st April (no kidding) you are ALL invited to a virtual blog party to celebrate with me. There will be more than one cupcake and obscene amounts of prosecco.

Then throughout April I hope to have some guest bloggers, interviews etc. Guests already lined up include Lucy Coats and Kate Forsyth.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Castle of Shadows

This is a very enticing book, Ellen Renner's first. The cover shows a picture of a spooky looking castle with two young people, one in a skirt and one in trousers running away from it as fast as they can. What this cover image can't show you is the turquoise-blue pattern of interlaced ivy leaves that tendrils its way from front to back of this paperback original and on to its endpapers (yes, endpapers on a paperback - well done, Orchard books).

Once you have picked up the book and taken it home, as you will surely want to do, the contents will not disappoint. Charlie is the spirited princess who lives in this castle, in the kingdom of Quale. Her mother, the queen, has been missing for five years, her father, the king, has apparently lost his mind and spends his days hanging upside down in his apartments making gigantic houses of cards.

Charlie is a half-starved, neglected child, terrorised by the housekeeper, Mrs O'Dair (the worst nightmare of a housekeeper since Daphne du Maurier's Mrs Danvers). Charlie's only friends are the ex-butler, Mr Moleglass, who lives in the castle cellars and Tobias, the gardener's boy, who is more sparring partner than soulmate.

But she does have a terrific castle as her playground. From the roof-ridge to the cellars, its more Charlie's kingdom than her father's and she roams its Gormenghast-like turrets and battlements by night, apparently immune to vertigo. It's claustrophobia that is Charlie's worst fear, being hemmed in and unable to escape. But she braves it several times in pursuit of her quest.

That is of course to find her missing mother and here she is pitted gaianst the ambiguous figure of Alistair Windlass, the very young Prime Minister. Whose side is he on? Is he a traitor, working for the government of Esceana, the neighbouring country? Or was he developing a weapon of mass destruction with the queen to use against them? And was that what made the queen run away, when she realised the weapon's dreadful power?

There is quite a bit of political theory slipped in undercover in this fast-paced adventure story, with Republicans and a body of resistance fighters active in Quale. And Charlie doesn't take her status as Princess Charlotta for granted.

There is scope for plenty more action and the sequel, City of Thieves is due out this summer so readers won't have to long to wait for the story to continue.

Author blog awards

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Saturday, 6 March 2010

The joys of stationery

That Hilary Mantel talks a lot of sense. Here she is writing in the Guardian today about stationery:

I've never met a writer who did not admit to the lure of stationery. Even quite upright citizens of the writing persuasion have been known to purloin items such as staplers and hole-punches from offices where they temp or have permanent day jobs.

One of the joys of living in the rather ugly little town where I am is that I have an account at the local stationer who can get me anything I order by the next day.Their catalogue is my kind of porn (second only to those glossy brochures about Italian villa holidays).

Before we moved away from London, there was a man with a van who would come round within 24 hours of my phone call - my filing cabinets came from him.

When I start a new Stravaganza book, I need index cards of a different colour from last time, to put new characters on or record new information about characters who have already appeared.

Of course there are the dullish renewables like Prittstick, envelopes and printer cartridges, which don't make my heart sing so much. But I am just having new business cards made in seven heavenly colours, which will perk up my mood enormously.

And buying a marbled notebook in Florence, Siena or Venice is a pretty orgasmic experience.

Sad? Hilary Mantel doesn't think so and she won the Booker prize.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Enchanted Glass, Enchanting Writer

A new Diana Wynne Jones novel is always an event. There are few writers whose work I anticipate with so much pleasure. Another was the late, great Jan Mark. Writers who have a sort of magical fizz about them. And they are the kind you can discuss endlessly with fellow fanatics too.

I missed an opportunity to do that at last year's first DWJ conference, but then so did poor DWJ, who was not well enough to attend, a fact she commemorates with typical good humour in her new book's dedication to the organisers and delegates.

The enchanted glass is to be found in two places on old Jocelyn Brandon's house - the back door to the kitchen and the roof of an almost derelict outbuilding. When Jocelyn dies, having lived to "a great old age, as magicians tend to do," he leaves everything to his grandson Adam Hope.

Just as Jocelyn was a typical magician, Adam is a typical, not to say stereotypical, academic, who promptly gives up his job (not a Chair, though every bestows an honorary "Professor" on him) and comes to live at Melstone House. As well as the house, Andrew has inherited an unspecified "field-of-care," a difficult housekeeper and an even more tyrannical gardener. These last two are both surnamed Stock - as are many people thereabouts - but are not related.

Mrs Stock is characterised by one of DWJ's brilliant one-liners: "As always when she was annoyed, she made cauliflower cheese." She also calls Andrew's computer a "computall," which makes me suspect she's really from Bristol, where DWJ lives. Mr Stock the gardener slams open the kitchen door (the one with the precious glass in it) every day as he brings in a vegebox of gigantic inedible produce.

Into this chaotic household comes Aidan, a runaway orphan whose recently dead grandmother knew Jocelyn Brandon and had a "field-of-care" of her own. Aidan is one of those boys like Luke in Eight Days of Luke or Howard in Archer's Goon, who are decent, rather anxious, ordinary-looking types for whom great things are in store.

And Andrew is that other common DWJ character, the one who has forgotten all sorts of important things that were previously known and understood (like Polly in my favourite - Fire and Hemlock). But there's also a briskly organising and very pretty young woman of the kind I think we've also come across before and a mysterious local squire whose threatening letters are signed O Brown.

But the time for veiled allusions soon passes and we have Titania and Puck cheerfully joining in the fray. It turns out young Aidan might just be a pretender to the fairy throne and "O Brown" unleashes terrifying forces against him.

Very cleverly, there are duplicates of people within the Melstone field-of-care, something the Fairy King doesn't care for at all and the benevolent "counterparts" are beginning to outnumber their hostile originals. And of course, the Melstone team has the enchanted glass on their side. Gradually Andrew and Aidan work out or remember how to use its magic.

A good cast of eccentrics, an ancient evil, powerful magic just waiting to be unleashed, a conveniently but not exclusively veg-eating giant, sinister Stalkers and a thumping great climax at the Village Fete - this is classic Wynne Jones and all her many fans will be most grateful, as is your Book Maven.

Monday, 1 March 2010

10 things that help me write

I've gone on thinking about those rules and think they would have been more useful if expressed as above. Here are mine:

1. Someone to read fiction aloud to, chapter by chapter, as I write it. In my case it's my husband, so he is very close at hand but any trusted friend would do.

2. Proximity to a kettle. My study is next to the kitchen, so it's very easy to make a mug of real black coffee in the morning and tea in the afternoon (creature of habit)

3. An object that symbolises what I am writing about. It's not a fetish but a focus. Currently I'm writing a novel about Michelangelo's David and I don't have such an object. Must find one.

4. A supply of clicky-clicky biros that write black. Blue really disturbs me.I like Papermate flexigrip which I buy in sixes (though then they all run out at the same time)

5. A fast Internet connection.

6. A writers' group. I belong to "the other SAS" = Scattered Authors Society. We have a closed forum on which to let off steam, pass on news, give and receive sympathy for personal sadness, ask for and receive advice on many arcane topics. We also meet at least twice a year, some of us, and also have little local lunches from time to time. We never discuss ideas or "inspiration", hardly ever even technical writing matters but it's terrific just to know a group of people who don't have to have this insane way of life explained to them.

7. A subscription to the London Library.

8. Some close writer friends, a smaller group than the SAS, with whom I can talk career strategies, marketing etc. You know who you are.

9. A good night's sleep.

10. a regular supply of fiction both YA and adult, to read. I'm not at all afraid of "being influenced" as some tyro writers say. If you don't read you can't write. Oooh, I think no. 10 is actually a rule!