Showing posts with label Celia Rees. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Celia Rees. Show all posts

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Some Rollicking Rs by Lynne Benton

I could find no children's authors whose names begin with Q, so I'll go straight on to the Rs.  And I’ll start with many people’s favourite: 

ARTHUR RANSOME.  Born in 1884, he is best known for writing the Swallows and Amazons series of children’s books about the school holiday adventures of children, mostly in the Lake District and the Norfolk Broads.  A tourist industry has grown up around Windermere and Coniston Water, the two lakes he adapted as his fictional lake.  Born in Leeds, he subsequently settled in the Lake District, where in 1929 he wrote Swallows and Amazons, the first book in the series.  It became so popular that he continued to write a further eleven books in the series, the sixth of which, Pigeon Post, won the Carnegie Medal in 1936.  Swallows and Amazons was adapted for TV in 1963 and a sequel in 1984, and two films were made of the original story in 1984 and 2016.  He was awarded the CBE in 1953, and died in 1967.

LYNNE REID BANKS was born in 1929 and has written 45 books for both children and adults, including her best-selling children’s book, The Indian in the Cupboard.  This book alone has sold over 10 million copies and has been successfully adapted as a film.  She wrote four sequels, as well as many other books for children.  In October 2013, she won the J. M. Barrie award for outstanding contribution to children's arts.  She lives in Surrey.

MICHAEL ROSEN is an English children's novelist, rapper, poet, and the author of 140 books. He served as Children’s Laureate from June 2007 to June 2009, and has been a TV presenter and a political columnist.  He has written much humorous verse for children, including Wouldn't You Like to KnowYou Tell Me and Quick Let's Get Out of Here.  Possibly his best-known book, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, won the overall Nestlé Smarties Book Prize in 1989 and also won the 0-5 years category.  The publisher, Walker Books, celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2014 by breaking a Guiness World Record for the 'Largest Reading Lesson’.  He lives in London.

CELIA REES was born in Solihull, and writes mainly for young adults.  She writes across a range of genre from thrillers, including her first novel,  to gothic and has written across a range of genre from thriller to gothic, but she is probably best known for her historical fiction. Witch Child (2000) was shortlisted for the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize in 2001 (2001) and won the Prix Sorcières in France (2003). The sequel, Sorceress (2002), was shortlisted for the Whitbread (Costa) Children’s Book Award; and Pirates! (2003) was shortlisted for the W.H. Smith Children’s Book Award. Sovay followed in 2008 and The Fool’s Girl in 2010.  Her novels have been translated into 28 languages. Her books for younger readers include The Bailey Game (1994) and the Trap in Time Trilogy (2001/2).

CHRIS RIDDELL is an illustrator and writer of children’s books.  Born in South Africa, he moved to England at the age of one and has lived in the UK ever since.  He has won three Kate Greenaway Medals for his illustrations, and books that he wrote or illustrated have won three Nestlé Smarties Book Prizes and have been silver or bronze runners-up four times.  On 9 June 2015 he was appointed the UK Children's Laureate.  Some of his most notable work is The Edge Chronicles (from 1998), a children's book series co-written with Paul Stewart and illustrated by Riddell.  He has also written and illustrated the Ottoline series for younger children, of which the first book, Ottoline and the Yellow Cat (2007), won the final Smarties Prize in age category 6–8 years (the Smarties were discontinued in 2008). It was then followed by Ottoline Goes to School and Ottoline at Sea.

RICK RIORDAN is an American author. He is best known for writing the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, about a twelve-year-old boy who discovers he is a son of Poseidon. His many books based on Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Norse mythology have been translated into 42 languages and sold more than 30 million copies in the US.  20th Century Fox has adapted the first two books of his Percy Jackson series as part of a series of films. His books have also inspired related media, such as graphic novels and short story collections.

And finally, of course, (you didn’t think I’d forgotten her, did you?) J.K. ROWLING, the woman who single-handedly raised the profile and status of children’s writers throughout the world.  Her creation, Harry Potter, is as famous in the real world as he is in the book, and the seven books relating his adventures as he grows up at Hogwarts Academy for Wizards from age 11 to age 18 are nothing less than a phenomenon.  The later books are extremely long, but I have yet to hear children complain about having to read 766 pages (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix), or having to queue up at midnight at their favourite bookshop to get their hands on the latest book the moment it hit the shelves.  Now that they’ve all been captured on film, their stars are almost as famous as the author herself.   Her own story is as much of a fairy story as her books: like many of us children’s writers, she started with an idea for a book, or in her case a series of books, sat down and wrote the first one.  She was a hard-up single mother, she didn’t come from a dynasty of writers, she wasn’t married to a publisher (like Enid Blyton was), and she didn’t know anyone in the business.  So like we all do she sent her first manuscript out on spec to various publishers, MANY OF WHOM TURNED IT DOWN!!!  (Bet they’ve been kicking themselves ever since!)  Luckily, Bloomsbury took a chance on an unknown author and in 1997 published a short run of 1000 copies of the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and then the unbelievable happened: it took off in a way nobody could ever have foreseen.  Never in her wildest dreams could she have imagined the unprecedented success her creation would bring her.  She is now the ninth best-selling fiction author of all time, having sold well over 500 million copies of her books, and became the world’s first billionaire author (though she lost this status after giving away much of her earnings to charity, including the one that had supported her when she most needed help.)  However she still remains one of the wealthiest people in the world.  And it all came from a great idea, a talent for writing, a lot of hard work and a large dose of luck.  Well done her!

(This is the Scots edition, but it was the only one with the original cover illustration, so I had to use it!)

Next month it will be time for children's authors whose surnames begin with S.

Latest book: Danger at Hadrian's Wall (Book 2 of The Britannia Mysteries)

Thursday, 18 June 2015

It's not a new it? Linda Strachan

IN the world of writers for children and teens we are so fortunate as to have an ever-changing, new audience looking for our books.

As our little fans grow up they will hopefully remember their favourite books, from their childhood.

And as they become readers of older, and eventually adult books, or perhaps when they come to having their own children, hopefully those memories and the nostalgia for their own childhood will remain. They might recall those books that they loved and want to share them, alongside all the new books on offer.

We all want children to have a wide a range to choose from as possible and the breadth of books available is mind blowing and exciting, even if it is often hard to keep pace with all the new publications.

But like most writers, I have some books that are now out of print and it is a small sorrow to see them disappear. It is a part of being a writer and we all have to accept that everything cannot stay in print forever (although happily some out of print books are returning as ebooks). Despite that small sorrow we still want all our books, new and older, to be read, enjoyed and bought!

Some old family favourites of ours are now out of print such as 
by Helen Young and Jenny Williams

Wide Awake Jake 
by Helen Young and Jenny Williams

Our copy is torn and battered but much loved by the next generation.  

So I come to the quandary, and I am really torn.

Reaching an audience is not always as easy.
We need the media and reviewers to talk about our NEW books but they can sometimes seem to be obsessed with 'the very latest thing' as if that is the only criteria that matters.With books that are not the newest and latest it can be quite bruising to be asked questions such as one I heard....

"But it's not a new book, is it?" 

I wonder though, does that really matter?

Of course we need new books, and writers do need to keep writing and seeing our new books in print and of course selling them - not least so that we can earn some kind of a living from this obsession of ours!

But for children who are growing up everything is new and exciting, even books that are not so newly published  - because they are new to them.
As a reader I have favourites in both adult and children's books. It makes no difference to me when I find a book I've not read, whether it is new or has been published a few years ago - if  I am enjoying it.

Some books will become favourites and stay popular, we do need to make room for new books on the bookshelves, but...

We as writers cannot shout about all our books - all the time -  to all and sundry, so we rely on  librarians, booksellers, the media and of course most importantly word of mouth, when our readers enthuse about them.

But in the haze of NEW BOOK euphoria that abounds, why not spare a moment to rediscover those books that came out a year or two ago and are still great books, but may be lingering forgotten and unheralded

Sometimes it may take a while for word of mouth to get going about a book and by then it gets lost in the mass of new titles, especially if it is a stand alone and not helped on by a sequel or being part of a series.

What are your thoughts, does it matter?

I have many favourite stand alone books that are NOT NEW books but are well worth mentioning,  There are so many I could suggest but here are just a few  -

Which 'not so new books' would you like to remind us of ?
 (In the comments)

Linda Strachan is the author of over 60 books for all ages from picture books to teenage novels and the writing handbook Writing For Children.
Linda's latest YA novel is Don't Judge Me . 
She is Patron of Reading to Liberton High School, Edinburgh.

Her best selling series Hamish McHaggis is illustrated by Sally J. Collins who also illustrated Linda's retelling of Greyfriars Bobby.

blog:  Bookwords 

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Y.A. at Hay - Celia Rees

I was recently at the Hay Festival, in conversation with Melvin Burgess and Daniel Hahn, talking about Young Adult fiction and our novels, This is Not Forgiveness and Kill All Enemies.

Daniel Hahn, Melvin Burgess, Celia Rees 
The discussion was interesting (I hope for the audience, too) and wide ranging. At one point, Daniel asked us if there was anything that we thought we could not write about, any taboo subjects, any darkness too impenetrable? I found myself giving the stock Y.A. writer's answer about leaving the reader with hope, etc., etc.. Melvin disagreed. This livened the discussion considerably, and his response gave me cause to pause and food for thought. He outlined a thesis which took me right back to where I began as a YA writer and also made me think about how far we have travelled since then but how little ground we had gained. 

It is an accepted shibboleth ( like the one about 'hope') that ‘at one time’ there ‘wasn’t much written for teenagers’, ‘nothing available for them’.Of course, this is not true. Teenagers have always found things to read, books and authors they felt comfortable with, even if those books were not written specifically with them in mind. Books like George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm, William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird, J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and The Lottery. And then there are the sic-fi/dystopian fiction writers: Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, John Wyndam’s The Day of the Triffids and The Chrysalids, J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World and Empire of the Sun, John Christopher’s The Trouble with Grass.

Quite a considerable canon. I read a lot of these books when I was a teenager, back in a time when novels for teens were not supposed to exist. I don’t remember feeling deprived, or thinking I’d have to stop reading because there was ‘nothing for me’. I thoroughly enjoyed the books I discovered on the adult shelves of the library, finding them myself, or being directed to them by friends who liked the same books I did. Reading these books was a rite of passage. I found my mind stretched, my understanding deepened, my assumptions questioned and challenged, my imagination
 fired. They weren’t writing for me particularly, but that didn’t matter, they were connecting with me on all sorts of different levels.

Melvin’s argument was that because these writers recognised no limits, there are no limits. I found myself agreeing with him and thinking that these books and these writers should be our benchmark. Perhaps we have compromised too far. In creating a specific Teen/Y.A. Lit. (although I still think that is important) we’ve wandered away from these writers who had the power to appeal to adults and teenagers alike. We have compromised, we’ve bowdlerised. We’ve listened to outside voices: gatekeepers telling us what is acceptable and unacceptable; Focus Groups and Target Readers; Publishers who tell us what the market wants, what it will tolerate.

Compare some of the books and authors I’ve cited, especially in Gothic, Dystopian and Science Fiction, with what is on offer at the moment in these genre, and you will see exactly what I mean. Where is the depth and breadth of the vision, the resonance and relevance, the imaginative reach, the complexity of the realised worlds, the quality and power of the writing? It is a salutary lesson. Of course, teen readers can go and read these books, and they should, but that is not the point. It is not good enough to mine them, to take from them, we should be producing books that bear comparison.

Creativity is a strange thing. Those books that I read when I was a teenager challenged me to think, fired my imagination, introduced me to ideas, and opened me up to possibilities. Maybe that experience is what led me to want to write for teenagers. True, or not, I’m thinking about going back. At least I’ll be guaranteed a damn good read!

I’m taking a break from blogging for ABBA but I’ve been proud to be part of the blog and to have seen it go from strength to strength. I’ll certainly be visiting regularly in the future to read and to comment.

follow me on twitter @CeliaRees

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Sheds - Celia Rees

I recently visited the Boathouse in Laugharne. I'd been there before, and peered into Dylan Thomas' Writing Shed, but this time I was with my friend, the artist Julia Griffiths Jones, and she'd been inside! She had been allowed to go into the shed to draw. When she showed me the drawings that she had made there, and the photographs that she had taken, I must admit to being gripped by a strange excitement and considerable envy. There is something about the place where a writer works that exerts a peculiar fascination. Just to see what he or she had on the desk by way of distraction or because a particular object was special in some way; to see the pictures pinned up on the wall; the view, or lack of it from the window. These things serve to bring alive some of the process of mind that produced the work that one admires.

In Dylan Thomas' writing shed - Julia Griffiths-Jones

What I found especially wonderful here was the sheet of paper, stained and wrinkled, crisped by time, that was covered in lists and lists of words. Dylan Thomas is famous for the lyrical precision of his poetry,  the startling originality of his images, the sheer exuberance of the words he chooses. He once said that his first introduction to poetry was through nursery rhymes:

I had come to love the words of them. The words alone. What the words stood for was of a very secondary importance.

But this list showed that his poems were hard won. He had to prepare, work at them, think about what appeared on the page. What seems natural, effortless is supremely crafted and writing is a hard and lonely process, as he describes it in My Craft or Sullen Art.

word splashed hut - Julia Griffiths- Jones
In my craft or sullen art
Exercised in the still night
When only the moon rages
And the lovers lie abed
With all their griefs in their arms,
I labor by singing light
Not for ambition or bread
Or the strut and trade of charms
On the ivory stages
But for the common wages
Of their most secret heart.

Here, on his table, was a little bit of that crafting.  I don't know where he wrote the poem but from his shed window he would certainly have had an unimpeded view of the moon over the Taf estuary and the wide sweep of Carmarthen Bay. Just seeing these things brought the poet nearer, as though time and space were collapsing and death, indeed, had no dominion.  

I can't claim a shed myself, my garden just isn't big enough, but I will admit to shed envy. There are quite a few writers who work in a shed, or have worked in a shed. Philip Pullman famously wrote his Northern Lights Trilogy in a shed at the bottom of his garden in Oxford. 

Philip Pullman's Shed
Roald Dahl's Shed

Roald Dahl was another famous shed man. Again, I can feel the pull, the fascination of the table carpeted in objects, collected bits and pieces: fossils, model aeoroplanes, and the tools of a writer's trade: pens, pencils, scissors. The walls are covered in pictures, photographs, postcards pinned up, curling and interleaved - put up as aide memoire or inspiration. The touch telephone, so modern once, so dated now, gives a feeling of time stopped at the moment when Dahl left, never to return, the point when the building ceased to be a vibrant creative space and returned to being just a shed. A trace of him remains, though, caught and contained in the things he gathered about him. 

Writers are often elusive creatures, rarely showing their true nature, wanting their writing to speak for them, but these glimpses into their private place allow us a rare insight into who they were. There is an eloquence to the space, it speaks to us of the writers' true nature. 

Sheds are not just a male preserve. There are shed women, too. Virginia Woolf is perhaps the most notable example, although hers is, perhaps, more of a summer house.

Virginia's Shed


And there is, of course, our own Linda Newbery who used to work in this elegant little number, complete with a Virginia style verandah, although she tells me that she is shed-less at the moment. 

Linda's Shed

Linda also warned that having a shed comes with certain risks. The writer and journalist, Francis Wheen, recently lost his archive, his book collection and the novel he was working on in a disastrous shed fire. Even with that warning, I still feel the pangs of Shed Envy. Maybe, one day, until then I'll have to make do with a study. The important thing is to have, as Virginia Woolf says, a room of one's own. 

My non-shed
Shed or shed-less? Where do you write? What do you have around you? I'd love to know....

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Does it matter where you live? Celia Rees

I'm suffering from location envy, I don't mind admitting to it. Yesterday, Liz Kessler wrote fulsomely about the delights of living in Cornwall, in the beautiful town of St Ives, home to generations of artists and writers, and the inspiration she gains from that living in such a place and living by the sea. Her lovely blog was littered with wonderful photographs of the sea, beaches and harbours, finishing with one of Liz surfing. Go, Liz!

Now, I live in Leamington Spa, in Warwickshire. An attractive town, but about as far away from the sea as you can get. I was about to say, not particularly inspiring, but then I realised that I have used bits of the town, the cafes, shops, the streets, the parks, river, houses, etc. etc. in my books. My latest, This Is Not Forgiveness, is set in a town very like it, not exactly the same, of course, I would find that too restricting, but not dissimilar. It's an unexceptional town, where ordinary people live, so if you are writing a book about ordinary people, I guess it helps to live and write about somewhere that is easily recognisable, ubiquitous even. That's what I tell myself, anyway.

The other reason that I'm suffering from location envy is that I've just had an e mail from a friend who has upped sticks to go and live in Italy. Yesterday, while I was shivering in spitting rain and record lows for Easter, he was wandering round Assisi.

Going to see the Giottos, sitting outside cafes drinking expresso, lunching for €15 and he could do this any time he liked. And if not Assisi, then there are plenty of other wonderful hill towns full of fabulous art. Now, I'm thinking, if I lived there, in that climate, what could I not achieve? Or would spend so much time just looking, just being, that I wouldn't have time to do any writing? I don't know, but sometimes I think it would be fun to find out.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Book Tours - Celia Rees

I've just finished a Book Tour for my new book, This Is Not Forgiveness. A week of journeying up and down the country, visiting different regions with a couple of overnight stays. Back in the day, you would go to a bookshop, do a bit of a talk to a class or two who had been invited in to meet you, do some signing, then off to the next. These days, because of the difficulty of getting pupils out of school, finding bookshops that can accommodate large numbers, etc. etc., the author generally goes into schools.

Book tours are organised by the publisher and they differ from a normal school visit. You are only there for an hour or so, not all day. You are usually required to speak to large audiences, anything from 150 - 200 students, sometimes from different schools. You don't get paid. The payment, pay back, pay off, is seen in terms of publicity and book sales. Sometimes schools don't get this, so if letters haven't gone out, no-one has any money, the whole thing, as far as the book seller and publisher are concerned, is a bit of a waste of time. Me? I just go along and do what I'm asked to do. I don't really think in terms of book sales on the day. It took me a while, in fact, to work out that this was what it's about but I can be slow like that.

Sometimes, the visit is a great experience. The bookseller is on the ball, the school is primed and eager, the staff have done some prelim. work, the kids know who you are, maybe they've looked at a couple of your books, read extracts, been to your web site. This always helps. You kind of know when it will be good like that. You are expected. There are posters up in the foyer, the receptionist knows who you are. The Librarian or the member of the English staff is on hand to welcome you. There's coffee, biscuits, maybe even pastries or muffins, and water on the table, with a glass. They have been talking the event up, pre-selling books. The hall (or wherever it is) is ready. Chairs set out. The techie stuff works (I use a Powerpoint) and if it doesn't there's someone from IT to sort it out. Grand. The students file in, fill up from the front, there are plenty of staff with them. They listen more or less attentively (staff, too), ask questions and then, at the end, they come up and buy shed loads of books, you sign them, have your photo taken, answer more questions and everyone is happy - even the bookseller and the publicist.

Sometimes it doesn't go like that. You get a feeling this time, too. Of doom. There are no posters. No sign of any publicity. The receptionist is hostile, like every visitor is a potential paedophile, there are mutterings about CRB checks, photo I.D.. You don't have either, so you submit to a mug shot and take the pamphlet about the school's policy on Child Safety. No sign of any staff to greet you, so you sit and wait until a flustered librarian comes running round the corner, telling you that they are under Special Measures/have SATs tests/the hall is no longer available. You are in the Drama Studio which has no windows so ends up being a cross between a sauna and the Black Hole of Calcutta. Everyone has to sit on the floor, so you do a quick mental check to make sure that your Public Liability Insurance is up to date, just in case you trip over and crush the front row. The IT doesn't work - no one told us/no laptops available/we thought you were bringing yours with you. The students amble in unsupervised, sit where they like (i.e. as far you from as possible). They regard you with an indifference bordering on hostility; large swathes make an ostentatious point of paying you no attention and get on with texting/chatting/fidgeting/giggling/chewing and generally behaving as if you weren't there. The few staff who are present sit well away from their charges and get on with their marking. There are almost no questions and the ones that are asked are personal/facetious, or both. Almost nobody wants to buy books and everyone is glad to get out of there (most of all you).

Now, before I'm deluged with sympathy or messages of the 'Poor you! It never happens to me...' variety, I have to say that this does not happen very often. If it does, what to do?

1. Don't try to win them. If they have made their minds up not to 'appreciate', they won't. Finish as quickly as you can. Don't be afraid to knock it on the head. You are not contractually obliged. You aren't being paid.
2. Don't blame yourself (even if every one around you is doing so) because if a talk works in one place in front of one audience and not in another, than how are you the problem?
3. This from Bernard Ashley (let's face it, if he's had problems, anyone can): focus on the ones who are listening, not on the ones who aren't. Don't be distracted by those not paying attention; seek out those who are and speak to them. They wanted to come and they wanted to hear you. They want to ask questions and to buy books, so screen out the rest of them. If need be, make some time after the others have gone to talk to them individually or as a small group.

These negatives are minor compared with meeting enthusiastic readers, die hard fans who lug along bags of your old titles for you to sign or produce books that belong to their friend/sister/mum. Readers who like the look of whatever book you are promoting and want to try it and, these days, those who've started reading your book on Kindle but want a signed paper copy. Keen readers who have banded together to form their own book club/blog/writers group to shine like a beacon in the philistine darkness. You don't have to shift masses of books. If one person appreciates you being there, if signing one book makes that reader feel special, then the whole thing is worthwhile.

And I've met some wonderful booksellers who have organised excellent visits because they know their patch, they know their books and they know their schools. Booksellers like Elaine and Sue at SilverDell Books in Kirkham, who gave me a Rolls Royce (or Range Rover) of a day in and around Lancaster and even found time to show me their wonderful bookshop and let me sample their homemade ice-cream. Me, books and ice cream? It could get messy...

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Then and Now - Celia Rees

At the risk of 'bugging the life out of people' (see Nicola Morgan's recent ABBA Post of the 24th below), I've got a new book coming out next week. February 2nd, in fact, and I'm going to mention it because having a book published is one of those things that doesn't happen all that often to me, although with so many books published it is obviously happening all the time to other people, who then bleet and tweet about it, to Nicola's annoyance. I suppose that's part of the problem. In her perceptive way has put her finger one of the profound contradictions of social networking, and publishing for that matter. To an individual author, a book being published is A Very Big Thing; to everyone else, it's another 'so what?'. Cursory glance only before we go on to our own tweet, Facebook page entry, blog or planning our Virtual Launch.

At the risk of bugging, I anticipate publication of This Is Not Forgiveness with the usual mix of feelings: pride and a sense of wonder that my name is on the cover, but also complex feelings of nostalgia and loss. When I turn the pages, it is like looking through a strange kind of diary. I remember where I was when I thought that, wrote that, added that detail. It happens over a summer and I wrote it over a summer, so the weather, the descriptions, are like snapshots of particular places at a particular time. And there is something perfect about a book that is about to be published, before it goes out into the world to be the object of scrutiny and criticism, before it has a chance to fail.

I have another reason for nostalgia. This Is Not Forgiveness is a topical thriller set in the present and this is seen as a bit of a departure for me. I'm now known mostly for writing historical fiction. If not those books, then the old Point Horror Unleashed titles - Blood Sinister and The Vanished. But my first book was a contemporary thriller for teenagers. Every Step You Take. It was published in 1993. So long ago, that when I went to get the rights back from the publisher, they claimed never to have heard of it. That, too, was a contemporary thriller, so in a way, I've come full circle, returning to my roots.

That book was published into a different world. I'm typing this blog on a laptop, it is going straight by WiFi onto the 'net. I'm uploading pictures to go with it. I typed Every Step on an electric typewriter. Laptop, WiFi, 'net, upload? Terms not coined yet. I sent it off as a paper manuscript by Special Delivery, posted at the local Post Office (now a cake shop) not by attachment as I would do now.

The Internet was in its infancy, so no e mails. Publishers sent you letters. All you had to do was open the envelope, read and file. Everyone sent you letters, so it was easy to keep track of things. No matter how hard I try to be organised, finding things in e mails is like sifting though spaghetti. As for publicity, it didn't take up any time at all because there wasn't any. My first school visit came randomly from a librarian who had somehow stumbled upon the book by accident. When I phoned the publisher to ask how much I should ask for a fee, I was told by a posh sounding girl in Marketing that 'We simply have no ideah'. The book was ignored. Not quite the 'right thing' for the reviewers. Dismissed, I suspect, as a mere genre novel, although it was full of (I thought) relevant issues - a continuum of male violence from date abuse and rape to murder. It had strong male and female characters, friendship and betrayal, bullying and social exclusion, but because the characters were ordinary comprehensive school kids and it was written like a thriller, issues not to the fore, these aspects of the book weren't even noticed. So, no publicity, nothing to do but go and admire the single spine out copy in the odd bookshop that stocked it and get on with the next one.

I agree with Nicola (do read her excellent post if you haven't already) all this publicity work we have to do can be a time sucking nuisance and it is hard to keep a balance. We need to get on with our real work, which is writing books, but there is always the fear that if we don't do anything, then our new book will sink like the proverbial stone and when we next go to our publisher they will say what they have always said, backed up now with stats from EPoS, the last one didn't sell, so low advance or no contract. Yes, doing our own publicity is a time consuming bind and we risk bugging the life out of people, but if we don't do it, who will? The Internet has given us the chance we never had before, the chance of doing it for ourselves.

To work out if it is worth our while, there's always Liz Kessler's brilliant Formula (see yesterday's post). What was it again, Liz?

S to the power of something + P? I better go back to tyour posat and check it out...

This Is Not Forgiveness is featured in New Books above.
For Linda Newbery's excellent Review of This Is Not Forgiveness, go to ABBA Reviews.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The Year's Midnight - Celia Rees

' 'TIS the year's midnight, and it is the day's,
Lucy's, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks ; The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays ;
The world's whole sap is sunk ;
The general balm th' hydroptic earth hath drunk, Whither, as to the bed's-feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr'd ; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compared with me, who am their epitaph. '

A Nocturnal Upon St. Lucy's Day, Being The Shortest Day - John Donne

For John Donne, the shortest day was St Lucy's Day, the 12th December. For us it is the 21st. We are a day away, but as I write this and a dismal afternoon turns more drear and the light fades, it feels as if it is already here. The Winter Solstice has always been seen as significant, recognised all over the world and celebrated as a time of re-birth, a time of hope and re-affirmation as the year turns back towards the light.

Short days and long nights have always made this a good time to read. What else is there to do, once Christmas is over? It's a chance to withdraw from the world for a little while, curl up with a good book and maybe a glass of something, and read in front of the fire. I guess everyone has their favourite seasonal reading, their favourite Christmas stories and poems and there have been some memorable children's books set at this time of the year. When I was a child, I didn't particularly enjoy the stories of Beatrix Potter and I didn't like Alison Uttley's Little Grey Rabbit. I preferred the rougher charm of her Sam Pig and Brock the Badger. My favourite story from the Tales of Sam Pig was The Christmas Box, and my favourite part of that story was when Brock the Badger goes to the Christmas Fair. The light is going and no-one notices a 'little brown man' going from stall to stall with his silver penny, buying things for his wards, Sam, Tom, Bill and Ann. I used to look out for him in country markets, late on a December afternoon. I still do.

'Miracles happen on Christmas Eve', Brock says, and maybe it is true. it is a magical time of the year when it is possible to believe strange things could happen, like badgers going to market, so it is little wonder that two of the best children's fantasies ever written are set at this time of the year. John Masefield's hugely influential Box of Delights is exactly what it says on the cover. First published in 1935, every subsequent British fantasy writer owes an immense debt to Masefield's imagination and his inventiveness. The book is set in deep mid-winter with the hero, Kay, returning from boarding school. He meets a mysterious Punch and Judy man, the owner of the box, who then entrusts it to Kay to avoid it falling in to the hands of the evil Abner Brown. The gripping, powerful story unfolds over the few days Christmas. The weather and the feeling of dislocation, of being out of normal time, that is often present during this period, add significantly to the power of the fantasy and the sense of danger and isolation.

The other book on my Solstice reading list is Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising. Another brilliantly inventive, original and influential fantasy, like the Box of Delights, it takes place over Christmas and New Year and deals with the battle between the forces of darkness and the forces of the light. Perhaps both books are so powerful and convincing because they tap into the atavistic fear that fuels our midwinter festivals, rituals and celebrations, a fear that goes back thousands of years, the terror that the warmth and light may never return and we will be kept in a state of freezing darkness. M. R. James used to tell his ghost stories at Christmas and that seems entirely right and fitting. The impulse to read and tell stories of this kind, involving supernatural and magic, may be very ancient, a way of warding off forces that might engulf us, forces that grow in the darkness and shrink in the light.

What's your favourite Solstice reading?

Monday, 14 November 2011

Significant Dates - Celia Rees

I mean calendar, not the other kind.


A date of particular significance. I thought I ought to mark it in some way. Write it down somewhere. So at 11 o'clock, I opened a brand new notebook, filled my fountain pen (I rarely write in long hand, let alone fountain pen), wrote the date, and officially started a new project.

I don't usually attend the Armistice Day Service in the town where I live, Leamington Spa, and did not consciously intend to do so when I set out for a walk this Sunday morning, but I found myself on the edge of the knot of people gathered around the War Memorial. My Uncle Bob's name is on it. That's him. The boy in uniform, standing next to his father in the photograph that was taken before he went off to France and didn't come back. As I stood in the crowd I thought about my family, my grandfather and grandmother, standing here when the memorial was erected, their remembrance new and raw. The family stories: that my uncle had been killed on the last day of the First World War (he hadn't, of course, he'd been killed some months before); that when my grandmother heard the news her hair went white over night. Then I thought about another war, my father here with Bob's brothers, all in their uniforms, standing to attention, honouring the memory of another generation of young men who did not return.

They are all gone now. The town has changed, the bronze figure verdigrised and weathered, but the crowd still gathers, sheltered by the tall lime trees, much as they would have been fifty, sixty, eighty years ago.

People disperse. The assembled groups from the different services line up and march off, standards held high. I go on my way.

Not much to do with writing, you might say, but then, isn't everything?

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Notebooks - Celia Rees

Like many writers, I'm a sucker for notebooks and I have many. Big ones, small ones, handbag sized ones, leather bound, spiral bound, cheap ones and expensive ones with beautiful marbled covers and heavy, creamy paper that I can't bring myself to write on. Friends give me notebooks because they make the perfect gift for a writer, but most of them I've bought myself. I find them hard to resist. it is not just the pristine perfection of the pages. Starting a new notebook makes one feel one is doing something positive, making a fresh start.

I always advise anyone who wants to write to keep a notebook and I always have one with me. The notebook is the place where we capture fleeting ideas, impressions, note bits of description, write down 'the words in the air' that Abi Burlingham blogged about on Thursday (see below). It also acts like a sporadic diary, a place where what just might be that really great idea is recorded along with 'to do' lists, shopping lists, holiday lists, so I have a reminder of my ordinary life, as well as my writing life. I also like to collect aide memoire - cards, coasters, tickets, newspaper snippings - sometimes I stick them into the notebook, or if it is a moleskine I tuck them into the handy little pocket in the back. There is nothing like having a physical reminder to take you back to a time and place, either because you need to describe it or to conjure what was in your mind. My only regret is that I cannot draw. I have to confess to a certain amount of notebook envy when it comes to those who can fill the pages with little sketches and arty, italic writing.

One of my favourite novels is Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook - I fell in love with the idea of different coloured notebooks laid out on a table in which one would write different things - so exciting! I haven't quite figured out how to do it, but I'd love to try a similar thing myself.

Stop Press! Dianne Hofmeyr is reviewing my book, The Wish House in ABBA's Review Section today!