Sunday, 30 May 2010

Walker Canongate YA books

In an inspired new venture, two independent publishers have got together to produce the best of adult books that they think teenagers would enjoy. A sort of reverse crossover, if you like.

I've read two out of the four launch titles and think they've made some really good choices.

Not only did The Life of Pi win the Booker Prize, it's an enjoyable, reasonably challenging read and a good introduction to the idea of the "unreliable narrator."

And Niccolò Ammaniti's I'm Not Scared is a terrific choice. I haven't read the Canongate translation but "Io non ho paura" was a set book on my Italian Literature course a few years back and I also saw the very good film made of it.  I think it's Ammaniti's best book - possibly even the best book he'll ever write.

Four titles will be released in July this year, the other two being Kelly Link's Pretty Monsters and Matt Haig's The Radleys, with new covers like the ones above. It will be interesting to see how they go down with a new audience.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Why I can't review YA books for six months

It's been killing me not to tell you but I am one of the judges for the Booktrust Teenage Book Prize this year. In a funny kind of way, I have become Neil Gaiman. He won last year's prize with The Graveyard Book (Bloomsbury) and it's traditional (as on the Guardian Award) to invite one year's winner to be next year's judge. But since the great Neil lives in the USA, this is not practical (think of the expenses claims for attending judges' meetings) so I'm deeply flattered that they have asked me to stand in.

BUT! Firstly I have to read and absolutely ginormous number of titles before I go on holiday mid-June (yes I know that's in three and a half weeks - eek! But I have been reading for weeks; it took rather a long time for the judges to be announced). Worse, for me is that my hands are tied when it comes to blogging about individual YA titles if they are on the list submitted by publishers.

And there are books I'm dying to talk about.

The Chair of the judges is Tony Bradman and the other judges are journalist Barbara Ellen, librarian Barbara Band and a teenager Claudia Freemantle. Once we have a shortlist we will be joined by four more teenage judges and I shall find all their views most interesting. I have a hunch there will be a core of titles both age groups enjoy but another tranche that is liked more by one lot than the other.

And the agony is I won't be able to say a word about it! Ah well, after November 1st I'll be free to talk about YA fiction as much as I like.

Meanwhile I'll have to try to look a lot more like this chap on the right. It's going to be a tough call. I just hope some of his stardust rubs off on me. (See what I did there?)

Just hope it's not the graveyard slot.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Fan fiction - flattery or theft?

There has been a lot of blogging recently about fan fiction. If you don't write or read fantasy, Science Fiction or series, this phenomenon might have passed you by.

I came across it first when my daughter Rhiannon Lassiter was reading Anne Rice about fifteen years ago. The Internet was in its early stages then but she found a group of like-minded virtual friends, several of whom wrote stories using the characters and settings of Rice's Vampire novels.

It seemed harmless enough. But not to Anne Rice. In 2007, she issued this statement:

"I do not allow fan fiction. The characters are copyrighted. It upsets me terribly to even think about fan fiction with my characters. I advise my readers to write your own original stories with your own characters.

It is absolutely essential that you respect my wishes."

(You can read more about what followed here:

Now Diana Gabaldon, author of the bestselling Outlander series, is taking a similar line:

"OK, my position on fan-fic is pretty clear: I think it’s immoral, I _know_ it’s illegal, and it makes me want to barf whenever I’ve inadvertently encountered some of it involving my characters."
Gabaldon's post here:

received over six hundred comments in a less than a week.
A more emollient post followed the next day
and received over five hundred comments.

As you can see, this subject arouses strong feelings. But not all authors feel the same as Rice and Gabaldon. In 2004 a spokesperson for J K Rowlng's literary agent said she was   
 "flattered people wanted to write their own stories" based on her characters. (But this did not extend to allowing the publication in 2007 of a  Harry Potter Lexicon by Steve Vander Ark. Joanne Rowling and Warner Brothers won a court case in 2008 prohibiting publication).

Stephenie Meyer seems so far pretty relaxed about Twilight fanfic, even providing links to it on her website. (Some people have cruelly compared her own style to that of fanfic writers)

The major place to find this type of writing is I might be flattered to have 78 Stravaganza fanfics going on were it not that Harry Potter and Twilight ones run into hundreds of thousands of stories!

I did start to read them in the early days but found when I was writing the next novel in my own sequence that I was actually writing pastiche Mary Hoffman, influenced by what I read. So I don't read them any more. But I'm very happy for them to exist, as long as I get a credit and the writers make no money out of them.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Nicola Morgan's May Day guest post

This is a picture of fabulous YA novelist and uber-blogger Nicola Morgan looking very relaxed, which currently she is not. Not content with these roles, Nicola decided to move house - twice - within weeks and, oh yes, do a blog tour to launch her new book Wasted. And while she was about it, set up a new website to go with it for good measure.

You can read about both below but it I'm thinking it will be a long time before our guest blogger looks this relaxed again. Good luck with it all, Nicola, and welcome

Huge thanks to Mary for inviting me over to her esteemed blog. I’m trying to write something different for each stop-over on my blog tour and since today is May 1st I have a special May Day inspired thought.

Actually, it’s a Walpurgis Night / Beltane thought, because last night, April 30th, was Walpurgis Night. The only reason I know anything at all about this is that I was doing an after-dinner talk at the Scottish Arts Club and therefore had to look it up. Clearly, I am writing this post in advance of that event but, since Walp Night is characterised by noise and alcohol, I predict a headache this morning. From the noise, of course. Also, by chance (because most of our lives are ruled by chance), I recently moved house to Calton Hill in Edinburgh, not realising that Walpurgis Night is marked on Calton Hill by the Beltane all-night shenanigans, which involve a lot of noise, bonfires and alcohol, apparently. So, what with my talk and the Beltane bedlam, I won’t have had much sleep at all. *nurses head*

Anyway, back to the point. Walpurgis Night is, in case you know as little as I did, the dancing partner to Halloween. Diametrically opposite end of the year and signifying the last chance for evil spirits and witches to do their worst before May Day heralds light, warmth and summer. Because I’m a writer who loves the dark side, I like to think of this night as nastier, scarier and more potently evil than Halloween: the spirits have been gorging themselves on dark power all winter, and are fat on it, strong, huge and monstrous, and Walpurgis Night is their final chance to cause mayhem. So, May Day is celebrated to contrast this darkness – it heralds the triumph of good over evil, light over dark, warmth over cold. The Winter Queen dies, icicles melt, cold hearts thaw, shadows are swept back. And of course, summer begins. (Despite the fact that we’ll probably have rain…)

But I want to relate this to the power of fiction. All this about ghosts, demons and forces of evil, witches, spells and incantations, the idea that spirits can slip through the cracks between two worlds: we don’t believe this now, do we? We’re rational, scientific minds, who know that the laws of nature rule us, not spirits. And yet…  And yet, even the most rational people (and I am one) can’t help feeling that there just could be something else. Or even if we don’t really think that, we are capable of doing the “what if?” thought-experiment.

So, writers have the power to stop rational people being fully rational. We try to make our readers fly with us, be transported, hearts and minds, into a world they know does not “really” exist. That word “transported” is interesting, too. I’m fascinated by the theory of narrative transportation – the phrase used by psychologists to describe the state that readers of fiction enter when they take on the emotions, fears and desires of the fictional character and are transported into the fictional world. (There’s a great article here, if you’re interested:

It doesn’t always happen, but it’s what we aim for as writers. The full suspension of disbelief, but a whole load more, something more mysterious than that.

In Wasted, the book I’m supposed to be talking about on this tour  - slapped wrist for author not mentioning her own book at every opportunity! – there’s a scene where the characters are forced to suspend their own disbelief in supernatural powers. Jack and Jess, while escaping from a knife-wielding boy, take refuge in a fortune-teller’s tent and pretend they want a reading. Fantastic Farantella is not very convincing and her “crystal ball” is a cheapo, plastic, battery-operated one from a bargain shop. And Jack and Jess are not silly enough to believe in this stuff anyway. But something happens and suddenly the mood changes, very suddenly. The characters, the reader, and the writer are suddenly not sure what’s real.

“And into this unlikely setting a sinister spirit enters.” It stops Jack and Jess laughing. It’s how I could feel in an old house in the middle of the night – I don’t believe in ghosts, and yet something has made my neck crawl and make me wish I was anywhere but there. You can refuse to believe in spirits but you still feel their eyes on your back.

Shortly afterwards: “A small noise slips from [Farantella’s] mouth. Or the noise could come from somewhere else – it is hard to say. It is the noise a spirit would make. If such things existed. It is the noise the future would make, if it squeezed through a gap in the skin of time.”

I love this about us: readers and writer are all in it together, our minds meeting in the pages of a book, in a made-up world. The conflict between knowledge and intuition, mind and heart, cortex and limbic system. The suspension of disbelief. The horrible power of the one small question, “Yes, but, what if?”

Wasted asks that question. And tries to offer some answers. You may have different answers – do tell!

Please visit the Wasted blog at  Today I’m talking about Schrödinger’s Cat and, honestly, if you think novelists must have wild imaginations that’s nothing compared to scientists who can try to make you believe that a cat can be alive and dead simultaneously … Now that is unbelievable.

Copyright © Nicola Morgan 2010

A bit about the Book Maven's guest

Nicola Morgan is an award-winning author for teenagers, with successful titles such as Fleshmarket, Deathwatch, Blame My Brain and Sleepwalking. She prefers to forget that she also used to write Thomas the Tank Engine Books... When she's not writing, she loves speaking in schools, and at festivals and conferences in the UK and Europe,  She also enjoys messing around on Twitter or her blogs. Nicola blogs for writers at