Today I’m really excited to welcome Michelle Lovric to the Hearthfire to tell us about her love of Italy (and Venice in particular) and her latest book, The Fate in the Box which I recently read and loved.
A reading school is a successful school
A reading child is a successful child. You wouldn’t argue with that, would you? A 2005 Unesco report identifies reading for pleasure as the single most powerful agent of academic and social success. It should follow therefore that a reading school is a successful school. Well, it’s full of children, isn’t it?
Go into some schools and, whatever the personal feelings of the teachers, it just doesn’t feel like that. You can go into schools without libraries, schools where the children seem only to read excerpts, schools where reading is about technique, synthetic phonics, targets or where the culture of controlled assessments is the be all and end all.
Let me take you on a tour of a reading school. Walk through the door and the foyer has bright, new books on show, usually covers facing you. There are anthologies of reviews written by the staff and students laid out on the tables. There are posters of the students’ favourite authors. There are book cover designs and bookmarks made in class. The TV screen features rolling book recommendations: best film tie-in, best vampire book, best book if you like James Bond, best factual or fiction books about football. There are short films and podcasts in which members of the school community discuss the hot reads of the week. There are book trailers downloaded from You Tube.
Carry on into the heart of the school and there is the library, properly staffed, bright and airy. This is a place with a good book stock. It is a place where digital and physical reading material co-exists in a managed symbiosis. A class is browsing the stock and making their choice. Later in the week, they will have a performance poet in. They still remember the novelist who ran writing workshops last term. Some of them are taking place in the Carnegie Shadowing Group. At lunchtime the library buzzes with reading groups, Warhammer groups, casual browsing and work on computers. Every class has a time when they come in for sustained, silent reading.
Throughout the school there are mystery reader photo competitions, pictures of the students, teachers and members of the local community photographed against the backdrop of their favourite reading landscape. There are regular assemblies around the subject of reading. Students, teachers and members of the local community talk about their favourite books. The books are laid out on tables at the back of the hall for the students to borrow.
In other words, reading is not a worthy exhortation or an optional extra, a matter of didactic instruction or something we would do if we had the time. It is organic to the life of the school, something everyone is expected to do and it is something done for pleasure. Well, you wouldn’t invent a school that doesn’t read, would you? I mean, that would be stupid.
The gun is power.
The gun can make a weak man strong. The gun is the coward’s fist
“The two great cities of the North West, Manchester and Liverpool, provide the background for most of my writing. This is where I have lived and worked most of my adult life. This is where my wife and I raised our family. The North West is, as Gerry Marsden sang in Ferry ‘Cross the Mersey ‘the place I love’…
As a teacher and author I have spoken to a number of youngsters for whom school and academic success held little attraction. Growing up on bleak, jobless estates, they saw sport or crime as the only pathways out of poverty and boredom. Some spoke of the buzz they got from hanging round gangs. I wanted to explore this world, neither to make judgements, nor to glamorise, but to understand.”
In this tense, gripping and absorbing thriller, Alan Gibbons explores the complex issue of gun crime, and the far-reaching consequences it can have. Head over to the Indigo website for more information.
Yes! It’s Opal Moonbaby time again! Maudie Smith’s fabulous debut impressed me last year and now the sequel is out.
I can’t wait to see how Opal fares in her new life with Martha. We’re very fortunate to have Maudie stopping here at the Hearthfire on her blog tour to give us a bit more insight into her (and Opal’s) world.
‘I think that I am going to absolutely love being in Merry
Class and I’ll bet you’re a zooming fantastic teacher,
But things don’t turn out quite as expected and before Martha knows it, Opal is off making new friends, doing new things and throwing herself into life on Earth – and Martha can’t keep up.
About seven years ago, I went on holiday in the Scottish highlands. Whilst there, I visited various tiny towns and attractions along the coast. One of these was a small town called Pennan, the setting for one of my favourite films, Local Hero. But just a little way along the coast from this town that has now become a tourist attraction, there was another, smaller village. Little more than a row of houses standing silently, yards from the water’s edge, this one is not on most people’s tourist destination maps. And yet it was the one that stayed with me.
Crovie (pronounced ‘crivvy’) was once a busy fishing town. A storm in 1953, however, put an end to that. The storm washed away many of the houses and forced the residents to flee. Today, the houses that remain are mostly holiday lets – I guess, for those who really want to get away from it all. There is certainly not a lot to do here.
It was about five years later that I began to write the story.
So I began to look at other possibilities. Were there any other similar towns a
little nearer? That was when I discovered Hallsands.
Hallsands has a similar history to Crovie – only worse. A small but thriving fishing town in Devon, the village was all but destroyed in a storm about 100 years ago. Almost every house was destroyed. Miraculously, there were no casualties from the storm – but every inhabitant had to start a new life elsewhere.
It didn’t take me long to pack a bag and book a trip to Hallsands.
A few nights in a nearby apartment; a few conversations with the right people to allow us over the fence and through the gate that blocked off the land as it is now too unstable to allow public access; a few pages of scribbled notes as I wandered around soaking up the atmosphere of this incredible place; a few hundred photos…All of this led to a head buzzing with ideas and inspiration.
For me, there is nothing quite like going to the place that has inspired a book.
It’s not just about what you can read in a book or on the internet. It’s about standing in the place itself and feeling its history – almost hearing and seeing the events that took place where you are standing – this is what gets my creative juices flowing. This is what really excites and inspires me.
And so, seven years on from the original moment of inspiration, North of Nowhere is written and out in the shops, and this feels like a very exciting point of an amazing journey.
I hope that I have managed to do justice to the places and the people that inspired this book. And I hope that, if you happen to read it, you will feel at least an inkling of the atmosphere and drama that I have tried to convey.
Thank you for having me as a guest on this blog, and for giving me the opportunity to relive the feeling of inspiration that I had when this book began to form in my mind.
|The path down to Hallsands|
NORTH OF NOWHERE by Liz Kessler was published by Orion Children’s Books on 24 January in hardback at £9.99.
The fabulous Hollow Pike (my review here) has a new and gorgeous paperback edition out last week – with PURPLE-EDGED PAGES! – so James has been touring the web in celebration. His blog tour, Hollow Pike Uncut, featured ‘deleted scenes’ from the novel and I would strongly recommend checking it out. Details here, on his website.
Before concluding his travels, James is here today at the Hearthfire to answer some questions about his work:
You were a teacher before becoming a full-time writer, which is not that unusual a past career for an author (and not specifically for children’s authors). Why do you think that is? For you, how does writing YA compare to teaching?
Hollow Pike is shot through with the idea of witches and there’s clearly an interesting history there. What kind of research did you do into witchcraft to write Hollow Pike? Are there any cool facts you picked up that didn’t make it into the book?
Earlier this year, you were the first man to be nominated Queen of Teen, which brought some interesting press coverage. What were the highlights of that experience for you? Are there any ‘lowlights’?
I’ve seen several interviews already asking about your writing practice, now that you’re a full-time writer. I note that you are very professional and organised about the whole thing (no lying-in until noon, for example). So, there really aren’t any strange writing habits you could share with us? No rituals or routines to help you get down to writing?
Witchy goings-on for Friday 13th at the Hearthfire today, with Victoria Lamb here to answer a few questions. Her first YA novel, Witchstruck is just out with Corgi this month, and she’s touring blogs to celebrate.
How did you go about researching/creating the magick in the novel? Are there any juicy details of Tudor witchcraft you couldn’t use that you’d like to share with us?
I’ve always been very interested in witchcraft, and know a fair amount about modern Wiccan practice in particular, so it wasn’t that tricky to research even a Tudor novel on the subject. Witchcraft really hasn’t changed that much over the centuries! I don’t think I left anything out about witchcraft, though some details about their methods of detecting, torturing and executing witches were too disturbing to use in a YA novel. I have used some though, like the Devil’s Mark which my heroine Meg is accused of bearing – this was usually a birthmark they believed was left by the devil, or some other mark (like an extra nipple) where witchfinders claimed the devil had suckled on the witch. Pretty horrible.
You’re working on both adult and YA historical series at the moment. What would you say are the most important differences between the two?
The adult historicals have far more history in them! That may sound like an odd thing to say, but my Lucy Morgan novels are far more concerned with political and historical events than my Tudor Witch series is. Witchstruck is essentially a paranormal romance set in Tudor times, rather than a straight historical where the setting is the most important element of the book. Having said that, the violent and dark dystopia of Tudor England is a vital part of Witchstruck and lends the book great intensity. Meg would have had a much easier time of it in Victorian times, for instance!
How much of a plotter are you? Do you outline in detail?
I’m a major planner, yes. I dislike starting a book without knowing more or less what’s going into each chapter, and how the story will pan out for everyone. When I first started writing novels, I had a far looser approach, often starting in great excitement only to peter out partway through because I’d lost the thread and had no real idea what was going on. Some people work like that very successfully, but I’m afraid I’m too cautious to do that anymore. I like to know the world of my story as God knows this one, to paraphrase Hollywood script guru Robert McKee.
How do you name your characters?
Well, in a historical novel, many characters are either already named for you or have names limited by what was normal for that age. (I couldn’t have called my Tudor heroine Chardonnay or Buffy!) But when I have a choice and nothing leaps instantly to mind, I tend to flick through a baby name book until I find one that’s perfect for my character.
You’ve published poetry (as Jane Holland – Boudicca and Co is great), adult historical and now YA historical-paranormal novels. Do you see yourself expanding further and writing something different again like a children’s book or something with a contemporary setting?
Well, yes. I actually have a children’s fantasy novel completely written and hidden in a file somewhere, unpublished. But that’s maybe something for the future. I’m very restless as a writer, and although I’m excited to be writing Tudor fiction, I already know what I want to write after the series finishes; in my spare moments, I’m developing an idea for a Victorian slipstream thriller. It’s all still top secret though, so I can’t say much more than that.
What would be your top tip for new writers?
Write what you’re most comfortable with, not something you think will ‘sell’. The authentic voice of a writer enjoying him or herself is what publishers really want – even if they don’t always know it! And write every day if you possibly can. Writing is like exercising on a freezing winter’s day. You have to do it to remind yourself why you like doing it, because when you’re not actively writing, it can seem like the hardest thing in the world to start.
Meg Lytton has always known of her dark and powerful gift. Raised a student of the old magick by her Aunt Jane, casting the circle to see visions of the future and concocting spells from herbs and bones has always been as natural to Meg as breathing. But there has never been a more dangerous time to practise the craft, for it is 1554, and the sentence for any woman branded a witch is hanging, or burning at the stake.
Sent to the ruined, isolated palace of Woodstock to serve the disgraced Elizabeth, daughter of Henry VIII and half-sister of Queen Mary, Meg discovers her skills are of interest to the outcast princess, who is desperate to know if she will ever claim the throne. But Meg’s existence becomes more dangerous every day, with the constant threat of exposure by the ruthless witchfinder Marcus Dent, and the arrival of a young Spanish priest, Alejandro de Castillo, to whom Meg is irresistibly drawn – despite their very different attitudes to witchcraft.
Thrilling and fast-paced, this is the first unputdownable story in a bewitching new series.
Today at the Hearthfire, we’ve got a visit from Caroline Lawrence, author of The Roman Mysteries, The Roman Mystery Scrolls and The P. K. Pinkerton Mysteries. Her latest western mystery starring P. K. Pinkerton is fabulous. Anyway, without further ado, here’s what Caroline has to say:
I was at the Edinburgh Literature Festival last summer and met an old Arvon pupil for tea. She had been working on several projects over the past five years, but had been finding it a struggle. ‘How do you write for children?’ she said at one point.
I stared, uncomprehending for a few moments, the realised what she meant.
She meant how do you get into a kid’s mentality and consciously make your story suitable for them.
My answer was: ‘I don’t write for children; I write for myself!’
I think each of us has an inner child.
The Age of Wonder
For some of us our inner child is a toddler. We are still amazed by the world and especially animals. We also love poo, fart jokes, pirates and fairies.
The Age of Adventure
For some of us, our inner child is aged 8 to 11 or 12. We feel grown up and ready for anything but aren’t yet obsessed with the opposite sex. We love adventures, puzzles, working out how the world works.
The Age of Awakening
Some of us have an inner adolescent or teen. The YA category from 13 – 18, is when mortality, sex, and relationships become of paramount importance. We are happy to explore these concepts via the metaphor of vampires and werewolves.
My inner child is an 11-year-old.
I love adventures and truth-seeking quests and mysteries. I prefer a ‘concrete’ story full of objects, tastes, smells and sounds to an ‘abstract’ book full of ideas. I also write to teach myself. That’s probably why there are so many facts peppering my books. I’m slightly geeky, so relationships and all that mushy stuff do not figure as highly with me as facts and finding the truth. (It turns out my books are popular among boys on the Asperger’s spectrum. I’m guessing I’m somewhere on the spectrum myself; or at least my inner 11 year old is.) Being a bit of a geek, I write about what fascinates me, whether it’s trendy or not.
When I was agonizing about a plot complication last week one of my friends said, ‘Don’t sweat it. After all, it’s only a kids’ book.’ ONLY A KIDS’ BOOK? I put as much time, care and research into my kids’ books as if they were for adults.
Of course, once you’ve written the thing, you have to make sure it is kid-friendly:
- Suitable content
- Vocabulary appropriate
- Clear, fast-moving plot
And that is often where the real challenge lies.
I used to teach 8 – 12 year olds – the age group I enjoy most – and I would often read a chapter or two of my Work in Progress. After a while just getting up in front of them immediately made me see what would work and what wouldn’t. Find a willing class of kids in your target age group and read to them. Even if your idea sprang from telling stories out loud, don’t use your own children, grandchildren or friends’ children. They will either be too nice or too ruthless.
By reading to an impartial target audience, you’ll know when they get bored or confused. What is suitable and what’s not.
You’ll also benefit from showing it to librarians, teachers and editors at some point. But that can be further down the line.
Here are my five easy steps for determining what age group you are best suited to write for:
- Write (or map out) a story that interests you.
- Use your instinct to guess which age group would like it best.
- Does that age group match the protagonist you had in mind?
- Read or show it to an impartial target audience, getting feedback.
- Modify as necessary.
I am very excited to be hosting this guest post as part of Keris’s blogtour. Her new novel, Emma Hearts LA is just out and I strongly recommend it. Without further ado, here’s what Keris has to say:
Deenie by Judy Blume (pub. 1973)
All-American Girl: Ready or Not by Meg Cabot (pub. 2006)
Pop! by Aury Wallington (pub. 2006)
Leader of the Pack by Kate Cann (pub. 2008)
Forget You by Jennifer Echols (pub. 2010)
Adorkable by Sarra Manning (pub. 2012)
Thank you so much Keris. It’s amazing to think that there are so few references that it’s even possible to compile a list. Any more recommendations, anyone?
For this week’s Words on Wednesday, we’ve got a real treat. Linda Newbery, author of many children’s books (for many different kinds of children), is here to talk about writing for a range of ages. I’m reading her latest book, The Treasure House, at the moment and it’s a gorgeous adventure with a truly classic feel (full review – and a giveaway of a copy – coming up on Monday). Without further ado, over to Linda…
One of the things I love about writing for young people is that there’s such freedom, or can be if you choose to take it. My first novels were for teenagers, but soon, wanting to diversify, I wrote a few first readers, short, illustrated books for children of about five or six, before moving into the core 9-12ish age group. My first book for Orion, At the Firefly Gate, was followed by five more, most recently The Treasure House; meanwhile I continued to write young adult fiction for David Fickling Books, along with Lob, for about 7+ (though I prefer to think of it as a book for everyone except teenagers) and have just completed an adult novel, to be published later this year. Oh yes, and there’s one picture-book, Posy, illustrated by the wonderful Catherine Rayner. So now I have books in every age-slot apart from board books for babies.
There are drawbacks to this from the marketing point of view. My books aren’t all shelved in one place; they come from different publishers and don’t share a “look”, so I’m not particularly known for any one thing. But I wouldn’t want to limit myself to one age-group or genre. After finishing a long and challenging older novel, it’s refreshing to turn to something shorter and lighter, such as a rhyming picture-book text or a little story about a dog and a narrowboat. And it gives a lovely variety to my school and library visits: I might be reading to five-year-olds one week, talking to year nine or sixth-form the next.
People sometimes ask about the practicalities of writing for different age-groups. Is it difficult? Confusing? Does it require a major switch of focus, or a preparatory period of immersion in picture-books or adult fiction? I’m not really aware of any great difference in approach. Writing is writing, and once I have an idea, it’s the story itself and the characters whose heads I’m inhabiting that determine how the story will develop, the pace, the language, the length. What I can’t do, though, is have two or three projects on the go at the same time. It’s essential to feel that I’m living in whatever story it is, so that my mind works away at it while I’m doing other things, like swimming or gardening, or even sleeping..
What next? Well, I do have something in mind – something I haven’t tried before … which brings me to another question I’ve often been asked. “Does it get easier now that you’ve written so many books?” No. It doesn’t and shouldn’t. Each book presents it own challenges, and if I ever start thinking it’s easy I’ll have to be very strict with myself and find a way of making it harder.
Someone Else’s Life, Katie Dale’s fabulous YA debut, came out this month. I loved this emotional read encompassing family secrets and the trauma of living under the shadow of Huntington’s Disease. Naturally I was thrilled that Katie agreed to visit the Hearthfire as part of her blog tour. So, it’s over to Katie:
Wow, thanks Katie – so many great memories and recommendations there. Thank you so much for visiting and sharing your Top Ten with us. Caroline B Cooney is new to me. What about you?