Friday, 22 March 2013

Wild About Britain

Rebecca Cobb's illustration for Hare's Birthday
Do you remember the RSPCA's Wild About Britain competition that I wrote about here a few weeks ago?

The three winners were ‘The Chase’ by Ayasha Kawakita, 14, from Hailsham in East Sussex in the 12 to 16 category and ‘A New Neighbour’ by Charlotte Pearce, 11, from St Ives in Cambridgeshire was the winner of the 11 and under group.

‘Hare’s Birthday’ by Louis Baxter Wedderburn, 11, from Wolverhampton won the People’s Choice category, voted for online by the public

These children had the thrill of having their stories illustrated by professional artists:
David Roberts' Illustration for The Chase

Paul Howard's illustration for A New Neighbour


To read the full stories along with information about the silver and bronze award winners in each category, visit

Sunday, 17 March 2013

What's a weekend?

Photo by Janine from Mililani, Hawaii, United States

I started this weekend thinking I had three major tasks to do before Monday and then got an email adding a fourth that had to be completed too.And that got me wondering when I last had a weekend off.

I'm not complaining; it is the way of life of most freelance, self-employed people. And we willingly trade it off against a packed commute in all weathers to a workplace where we have to do as we are told.

Next weekend I'm off to Bologna for three days at the Children's Books Rights Fair, which is one of the reasons my tasks for this weekend have been urgent. I'll be writing about the Fair here, on Bookbrunch and for Armadillo magazine.

Most children's writers and illustrators are aware of how the book fairs - Bologna and the London Book Fair in the spring and Frankfurt in the autumn - impinge on the working lives of our Editors, Art Directors and Rights managers. Increasingly they affect our own work patterns too, working towards having texts, mock-ups, covers and proposals ready to show to foreign publishers.

But the day-to-day work also has to continue. I've been doing a fair bit of work on my new website, which goes live next week. But no-where near as much as my web-designer, obviously. And whatever book I am working on (usually more than one - currently five, I think), new things crop up all the time.

Just this week I've had an approach for permission to turn a play based on Amazing Grace into an ebook; ongoing edits on the short graphic novel I surprised myself by writing to commission; submitting a picture book text and getting feedback on it; dealing with my other blog The History Girls; fixing and altering Bologna appointments ... the list goes on. I expect everyone's life is like this really.

What I HOPED to be blogging about this weekend was the launch party for Tracy Chevalier's new novel The Last Runaway. But thanks to an overturned lorry on the M40, I didn't get to London until the party would have been finishing. Here is a picture of the cover to console you:

This time next week I'll be in Italy - yay! (I wonder if it will be snowing?)

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

All the things that aren't writing

I'm sure I've written about this before but as a professional writer I do spend a great deal of my time not writing. I'm not talking about writer's block or lack of inspiration (a commodity I don't really deal in) or lack of commissions. I mean all the other things I, and other writers, do that are essential or desirable but not the core of our working life.

Since I last posted here I have been to two conferences/retreats for writers. The first was the SAS annual meet-up in what-used-to-be-Coventry-but-is-now-Peterborough. Stroppy and Crabbit were there again (and still my favourite firm of solicitors) giving talks in Orton Hall.

Stroppy, a.k.a. Anne Rooney, had been asked to contribute to a panel on "Ups and Downs of my writing year" and in spite of some relatively shallow troughs had managed to write or at least do work on 34 books. That made us all gasp a bit as there were also websites, trailers and more.

Crabbit, a.k.a. Nicola Morgan gave TWO talks, one about changing writing habits and ending "Write or die!" (I know she said that because I put it in my notes). The other was also full of excellent advice about customising one's Facebook Author Pages. I will definitely do that but it is yet another "thing that is not writing."

We had lots of wonderful contributions but, seeing as it's the SAS, I'm not allowed to go public with most of them. I can tell you however that this year I manged to swim in the spa and that next year I am organising the weekend with Stroppy. For some reason, people seemed to feel a bit sorry for the hotel managers.

Last weekend I was at another conference, on  "Women and the Novel" at my old Alma Mater, Newnham College Cambridge.

Newnham is so rich in literary Alumnae that we had talks by Margaret Drabble, Patricia Duncker and Jenn Ashworth and I spotted Elaine Feinstein and Nicola Baumann (founder of Persephone Books) as well as fellow children's author and History Girl, Caroline Lawrence. Ones not present were Sarah Dunant and Sally Vickers.

Margaret Drabble learned a lot about a lot of things, including how to cook various recipes, from three key texts: Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook, Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar and Mary McCarthy's The Group, not too mention Edna O'Brien's advice on how to cut carrots, Gertrude Stein's on omelettes and Iris Murdoch's strange enthusiasm for Vesta curry in The Sea, The Sea.

But more importantly, she took away Plath's determination not to "dwindle into a wife." And she championed Berdardine Bishop'sUnexpected Lessons in Love so convincingly that I'm sure Bishop's Amazon rankings must have shot up. I inwardly cheered when she ended the question session by saying she loved the novel for "its thingness." Me too!

It was wonderful to be back and when Patricia Duncker mentioned Moses and "God's hinderparts" which I first heard about in John Broadbent's English lectures in the '60s I felt quite nostalgic. The enthusiasm for D. H.Lawrence also brought back my time at Newnham very powerfully.

In between conferences, I have been to London, whither I am also bound this afternoon, for a research trip to the Tower of London, followed by meetings on three separate projects with the same publisher. Just as vital as writing, since we looked at roughs, finished artwork, dummy books etc. etc.

I've also done a school Skype visit, written a graphic novel version of a classic story (oops, no - doesn't count as was writing!) continued to organise my appointment schedule for Bologna, worked on my new website (watch this space), dealt with emails from four publishers, one agent, two illustrators etc etc.

And I expect I am not untypical. It's just that non-writers, especially would-be writers, think in terms of our spending all day and every day at the computer producing great works and there is so much more than that.

Meanwhile, here is my latest book, just to prove I do actually sometimes get the words on to the page!

Published this month by Frances Lincoln and illustrated by Ros Asquith