Showing posts with label Joan Lennon. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Joan Lennon. Show all posts

Wednesday, 20 January 2021

On a Scale of Owls ... by Joan Lennon


If the world really is divided between writers who are larks and writers who are owls, normally I'm a lark.  Lately, though, I'd say my larkishness has become a bit more bewildered-by-being-awake-in-the-day owly - I'm sleeping later, starting work later, blinking in the winter light, such as it is, and fantasizing about naps.  Maybe it's the time of year.  Maybe it's the state of the world.  Is anyone else finding their larks are turning owlish, or their owls are becoming larky?

And which medieval owl are you feeling like today? 

(An old photo, but it reminds me that I'd love to do another Falconry Day sometime!)

(Thanks to Michelle Lovric for putting the Medieval Owl Scale up on Facebook.)

Joan Lennon Instagram

Friday, 20 November 2020

Dancing Non-Fiction by Joan Lennon

Happy National Non-Fiction Month! (See Penny Dolan's ABBA post on Writing Fiction; Reading Non-fiction: Two ways of celebrating November.)

Pieter Brueghel the Elder The Wedding Dance (1565) 

(wiki commons)

I'm new to writing non-fiction* and the curve up which I have been learning has been a steep one.  It's been fascinating to find the parts that are the same as writing fiction - things like bringing a character/person to life through the telling detail; whittling away the unnecessary; telling a story that has a strong pulse.  But there have been plenty of differences, and the biggest has been the number of people involved in the process right from the beginning.  It's been quite a crowd!   

Who have been the partners in the dance?

The author - in this case, the authors

The editor - and in this case, as staff shuffles about, another editor to come on board for the final push

The senior editor - who offers another other round of comments and changes and suggestions

The designer - who works on layouts and provides scamps** for the authors and, with the editor, briefs the illustrator.

The illustrator - who, um, illustrates

But a simple list of the dancers didn't prepare me for just how intricate the steps were going to be.  Back and forth; point that toe; tap that heel; slide gracefully round there because until we've heard from X we can't go on with Y; no point adjusting that step sequence until the dance is basically over; proof; proof; proof and hop; let the text lead; let the pictures lead ...

A wise woman told me 'Remember - it's a conversation' and that advice has really helped.  I'm adding to that, especially now as we swirl towards the end, 'Remember - it's a dance'.  Keep moving, mind where you're plonking your feet, and listen to the music.  And when the evening's over, with luck, we'll have ourselves a book we can all be proud of!

* Coming out July 2021 Talking History: 150 Years of Speeches and Speakers by Joan Haig and Joan Lennon, Templar Press, aimed at 8-12 year olds

** It's not just new ways of working - it's new vocabulary as well!  I had no idea that a scamp was not a scallywag, but a sketch.***

*** Don't ask me why.  But if you know, please tell me!

Joan Lennon Instagram  

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Me, Dust and Thank Yous - Joan Lennon


Arizona Sandstorm 2011 photographed by Roxy Lopez 
(wiki commons)

I have an unnecessarily intimate relationship with dust. As in, the older I get the less I do it, and the less I do it the more bunged up I get when the activity of dusting is forced upon me. (Why dust when disturbed feels obliged to head straight up my nose is not clear to me, but I suspect there is some sort of magnetism involved.) 

Last week, when my ancient, second-hand, insanely heavy, ridiculously bulky printer finally died, I got a new one, which is lovely, dainty and sleek.  But in the process of extracting the old one from its niche under my desk, I had to dust back there.  And in the process of dusting back there I found some old file folders full of thank you letters.

When I first started doing school visits, a goodly number of years ago, it was the custom for teachers to make the kids write thank you letters afterwards, which were then sent on to the author.  They were lovely to receive, even when they were clearly a task rather than a pleasure for the children involved.  There were lines to write on and a formula to follow, and if you were quick about it, you got to do some decorating around the edges.  And they made me smile, then and now.

But in amongst the bundles was one that was not so tidy.  It wasn't on a template and it wasn't decorated.  It was a sheet of slightly crumpled A4 with the words 'I love you! Nicola' scrawled across one side.

That one made my heart twist.  I don't know which school sent it on to me, or exactly when the visit was.  But based on the dates of the other letters in the folder, she will now be old enough to have little Nicolas of her own, and we would certainly not recognise each other if we passed in the street, masked or otherwise.  I will tuck her letter and the others away, to be rediscovered another day.  But until then, thank you, Nicola!  You keep me going, dust and all.

Max Slevogt Sandstorm in the Libyan Desert 1914 
(wiki commons)

Sunday, 20 September 2020

Writing a Novel is Like ... by Joan Lennon

Theo Jansen Strandbeest 
(wiki commons)

There comes a stage in writing a novel when you need to revisit the whole thing, starting at the beginning and working your way right through to the end, looking for inconsistencies, contradictions, lumps, bumps and loose threads.  Novels are complicated beasts full of interwoven filaments that can easily break or tangle or just trail off randomly.  It doesn't take much to make something that complex not run smoothly.  Grind to a halt.  Maybe even fall flat on its face ...

Jansen said of his beasts: "I make skeletons that are able to walk on the wind. Over time, these skeletons have become increasingly better at surviving the elements such as storms and water and eventually I want to put these animals out in herds on the beaches, so they will live their own lives."

Which is what we hope for our novels too, right?

Joan Lennon Instagram

Thursday, 20 August 2020

Best Worst Reviews - Joan Lennon

Leonid Pasternak The Passion of Creation (wiki commons)

Bad reviews ... We've all had them (if you haven't, don't you dare tell me!) and oh, how they fester and sting.  But sometimes there are bad reviews that move past bad and into a surreal realm of their own.

And that's what I'd like to celebrate today.  Let's tip a nod to the best worst reviews we've ever had, starting off with this gem, courtesy of the multi-talented Gill Arbuthnott.  And it goes like this: 

This book appears to be targeted at young children. It has bright and cheerful pictures and advertises it is 'wacky'. Unfortunately it was not age appropriate (for any child). It contains dark and unnecessary subject matter.

There is nothing 'amazing and wacky" about this book.

The nonchalant reference to the loss of human lives is morbid. This book talks A LOT about murder, assassination, death, war, disease, and witches. It is not fun and cheerful as the pictures and bright colors suggest.

I am appalled that the author and publisher thinks this is written for a child.

Towards the end of the book it looks as if the author got bored and threw numerous elements on one page with a short sentence for each. Some information was completely false, such as the dinosaurs and how they became extinct ...

And what was the title of this heinous tome?  Yes, you guessed it - it was A Beginner's Guide to the Periodic Table!

I wish I could top that, but the closest I can come is the reviewer of Questors who approved of the book except for 'one swear word'.  Which turned out to be the word 'bloody'.  As in 'bloody gobbets'.  In the sentence, 'That's us, bloody gobbets on the walls', when a character tries to warn the others of a possible explosion in their vicinity.  The reviewer had no problem with the idea of projectile dismemberment but really could not be having with swearing, even when it wasn't.

So how about you?  What were your best bad reviews?  Pop them in the Comments below, and let's go 'Wow ...' together.

Joan Lennon Instagram

Monday, 20 July 2020

Fusion - Joan Lennon

I like fusion.  I like the way unlikely, different things bump up against each other and result in something else that is unlikely and different in a different and unlikely way.

I like Bardcore (as of really recently, as I didn't know it existed before then) - a fusion of medieval and pop (or in this case country) music:

I like Newen Afrobeat - a heady mix of Fela Kuti and Brazilian music:

In my own writing, I'm interested in the places where poetry and prose meet and mingle.  At the moment, I'm working on a narrative poem about 3 women living on Fair Isle at different times, and my narrative poem Granny Garbage is a post-apocalyptic science fiction monologue.  MY YA novel Silver Skin has been described as a historical fantasy science fiction adventure romance, which is a mouthful that always makes me smile.

But, in recent years, when doing author events in schools or festivals, I've found I'm being asked more and more questions about genre, frequently to the approving nods of attendant teachers.  What genre do you like to write?  What genre do you like to read?  What's your favourite genre?  

When I try to answer with suggestions that I don't really think about genre that much, or that maybe it's more to do with shelving problems than with books themselves, I haven't had a lot of approving nods.  But I don't start to write a genre.  I start to write a story.  And that usually means a fusion of all sorts of things.

So, fellow readers and writers, what do you think?  What role does genre have to play in your world of books?  Let's talk!

Joan Lennon's blog.
Granny Garbage.
Silver Skin.

Saturday, 20 June 2020

'Build Back Better' - Joan Lennon

Jan Verhas The Master Painter 1877

In this neither-one-thing-nor-another time, of different phases in different places, when the only sure thing is uncertainty, we need to find hope where we can.  So I wanted to share this initiative, aimed at children aged 5-15, run by the National Museums of Scotland, which has been running through lockdown.  It has, among other things, asked children to vote on 5 Ways of Building Back Better*- some of the things they'd like to see continued and encouraged as society moves forward. 

1. Fresh air for all
2. Making things last
3. Mindset for change
4. Stronger communities
5. Making the most of technology

These aren't lawyers or business men and women or, thank goodness, politicians.  They're kids.  Just have a listen to what they have to say.  It's their world too.

* You can look at the other sections on this project and how the museums are cooperating in teaching ideas of a Circular Economy here, here, and here.

Joan Lennon's blog.
Joan Lennon's Instagram.

Monday, 1 June 2020

Stay at Home! Anthology - Joan Lennon

Welcome to Stay at Home!  This anthology for kids in lockdown has been edited by Joan Haig, illustrated by Darren Gate, published by Cranachan Publishing, and features poems and stories by 40 writers based in Scotland.  You can get your own copy of this free e-book on the Books from Scotland website here.  

Read, enjoy, and stay safe!

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Kindness - Joan Lennon

It's Mental Health Awareness Week, and the theme this year is Kindness.

(Voiced by Mark Watson)

And by typing mental health into the Search This Blog box on the right hand side, you can revisit the insights of a number of ABBA bloggers on this now-more-than-ever important issue for everyone, of all ages.

Meantime, stay well, and be kind!

Joan Lennon's blog.
Joan Lennon's Instagram.

Monday, 20 April 2020

Cursed Be This Cat! by Joan Lennon

Which is not something I think I've ever said in real life.  But, upon suddenly realising that my ABBA date had somehow snuck up on me, and the idea cupboard was completely bare, I decided to plunder a past post.  And this one from back in 2014 spoke to my condition ...

A medieval manuscript - an incriminating stain - and a heart-felt curse -

(© Cologne, Historisches Archiv, G.B. quarto, 249, fol. 68r)

Hic non defectus est, sed cattus minxit desuper nocte quadam. Confundatur pessimus cattus qui minxit super librum istum in nocte Daventrie, et consimiliter omnes alii propter illum. Et cavendum valde ne permittantur libri aperti per noctem ubi cattie venire possunt.

Here is nothing missing, but a cat urinated on this during a certain night. Cursed be the pesty cat that urinated over this book during the night in Deventer and because of it many others [other cats] too. And beware well not to leave open books at night where cats can come.

Don't get me wrong - my cat would never do such a thing! But there are plenty of other people and things in this life that have just the same effect on our hard-scribed words - unkind reviews, discouraging sale numbers, lukewarm publishers, absences on bookshop shelves* - hell, I've been known to pee on my stuff all by myself! (We're talking metaphorically here, right?) But, after the finger-pointing and the cursing, what did the monk do next? He turned the page, and he carried on.

And that's the moral of the story. Though the smell of pee may remain for days (and days and days and days), there's another page waiting.


* Or a pandemic puts the world into lockdown.
** A cry for then, and a cry for now.

Joan Lennon's blog.
Joan Lennon's Instagram.

Friday, 20 March 2020

Interview with Debut Children's Author Joan Haig by Joan Lennon

[I met Joan and the Tiger Skin Rug while teaching at Moniack Mhor.  I thought she had an excellent name, and the makings of an excellent novel.  And now we are working together on a non-fiction title for Templar/Bonnier, due to come out in 2021.  The 2 Joans - look out, world!] 

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

My parents are from Scotland, but I was born and grew up in Zambia. I’ve lived in Vanuatu, India, Nigeria and Scotland. At first, probably because of my amazing tropical-coloured childhood, I didn’t like Scotland. Now, I can’t imagine settling anywhere else. I live in a cottage on the side of a hill with my husband, two boys and two cats, and I work in Edinburgh. I feel lucky every day, even when reduced in tricky times to beans-on-crackers. 

Joan's cats inspired her to work hard

Tiger Skin Rug is your debut novel for children – tell us about it.

It’s narrated by Lal Patel, an 11-year-old boy who moves with his family from India to Scotland. At first, he is homesick and miserable – but everything changes when he and his little brother set off on an adventure with their new friend Jenny and a magical tiger with a promise to keep.

First and foremost, it’s an adventure story. It’s also about ‘home’, friendship and conservation, but I didn’t set out to write about any of those things – the plot came first and the themes surfaced along the way. Similarly with the characters, I didn’t plan to write about Hindu children for the sake of diversity; I just wrote what I knew and those are the voices that emerged and made sense for the story. That said, I do think there’s a need for children’s literature to represent more diverse backgrounds. 

Joan's boys with Tiger Skin Rug

What was your journey to publication?

I started my novel at a Moniack Mhor creative writing retreat in 2015, but as a working mum it took me till 2018 to have a full draft worthy of submission. In 2017 I sent some less worthy versions to four or five agents and received four or five rejections. When Cranachan Publishing invited manuscripts, I sent it off and luckily, there was a tiger-shaped slot in their 2020 catalogue. 

Joan lost in a labyrinth 
(or, How it feels to be a children's writer)

Your book has been out for one month. What’s been most fun?

School visits! Children are fantastic and I love their high tolerance for knowledge and nonsense. Schools are full of positive, creative energy and so far I’ve left their assembly halls with a feeling of shared enrichment (and exhaustion)(teachers are worth their weight in toilet paper*).

*Toilet paper is the new gold. 

World Book Day sighting

Joan Haig’s debut novel Tiger Skin Rug is out now with Cranachan Publishing and available at bookshops and online. She’d love you to check out her website and follow her on Instagram @joanhaigbooks and Twitter @joan_md_haig

Thursday, 20 February 2020

Fair Isle February - Joan Lennon

I'm on Fair Isle, the UK's most remote inhabited island, for a month's writing residency.  And as part of that, I've had the pleasure of working with Fair Isle Primary School's 4 pupils, ranging from P3 to P7.  Last week we wrote short stories, and this week it's riddle poems, and both weeks it's been a delight.

I have been overwhelmed by sea and sky and weather and so many more colours than I can find words for.  

My brain is full of images.  I will be writing about this experience for many years to come!

Joan Lennon's blog.
Joan Lennon's YA novel Silver Skin 
(set in Orkney - at least it's close!)

Monday, 20 January 2020

Fair Isle Forecast - Joan Lennon

Not far off eight years ago I visited Shetland as part of the Farlin project, a joint Fife-Shetland initiative that paired up poets and makers.  I loved the project, and I was excited about visiting Shetland to do a reading there, though I was 100% sure that I would not love the place as much as I love Orkney ... I was 100% wrong.

I loved it!

Good advice

Sumburgh Head

North coast, Mainland Shetland

North coast, Mainland Shetland

North coast, Mainland Shetland 

And now ... I'm going back.  Only for a few days on Mainland Shetland and then, weather permitting, in a tiny 7-seater plane to Fair Isle!  I still can't quite believe it.  I'm going on a writing residency for the entire month of February and I have my own little cottage at the foot of Malcolm's Head, down near the south shore.  I will be inhabitant number 56 on the Isle, and hope to be visiting the Primary School, and I will absolutely be writing my tiny socks off.  Well, maybe it's a bit cold in February to do that.  I will be writing while keeping my tiny socks on.  Several pairs.

This is a big adventure for me, so wish me luck - and a fair weather forecast on the day I hope to fly (5 Feb.)!  After that, blow winds and crack your cheeks!  Can't wait.

Joan Lennon's YA novel Silver Skin (set in Orkney)

Friday, 20 December 2019

Christmas Stories - Joan Lennon

The end of the year is a time for looking back as well as looking forward, so I'm casting my gaze back to 2014, the year Girls Heart Christmas came out.  Ten inventive and fabulous stories from members* of the late lamented group blog Girls Heart Books.  A legacy I think we're all proud of!

(And if you want to have a read, you can get Girls Heart Christmas here.)

Happy Christmas, and see you all in the New Year!

* Jo Cotterill, Julie Sykes, Paula Harrison, Luisa Plaja, Lynda Waterhouse, Joan Lennon, Alex Campbell, Jenny Smith, Deirdre Sullivan, S C Ransom - cover image by Cathy Brett

Joan Lennon's website.
Joan Lennon's blog.
Walking Mountain.

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

The Road to Good Intentions - Joan Lennon

My intentions aren't just good - they're excellent.  Really, I have A-grade intentions to drink more water, lose weight, straighten my dowager's hump, get out there tree bathing twice a week - you know, all the excellent stuff.

Vincent Van Gogh The Painter on His Way to Work (1888)
(wiki commons)
(not exactly a picture of good intentions and the road to hell, 
but I like it anyway)

But I forget.

That's it, and all about it.  I forget to drink the water, sit straight, get out of the house.  I don't decide.  I forget.*

So I thought I'd try an app that would remind me.  I've started with Stretchly.  It's free.  It's based on a combination of microbreaks and longer breaks.  I have mine set up for 3 x 30 second microbreaks every 15 minutes and then a longer break.  There are randomised prompts like put your fingertips on your shoulders and rotate them forward and then back, or go grab a glass of water, or slowly look all the way to the left and then to the right, or close your eyes and identify what sounds you can hear.  (Just the words in a box - it doesn't talk to me or anything.  If it did I can see myself telling it you're not the boss of me ...) 

Okay, I've only had it a day or two, but so far, so good.  It's reminding me to do small, good things, and I'm kind of liking it.

Have any of you tried apps of this sort?  What were they, and have they worked for you, or were they just so irritating you turned them off and forgot to turn them on again?  Let us know!  Meanwhile, I'm shutting my eyes and counting my breaths for 30 seconds ...

* Which is not to imply that when I'm working I am always utterly rapt away by genius.  (I wish.)  I am very distractable (see here for full disclosure).  It's just that I'm not distracted by things that are good for me.

Joan Lennon's website.
Joan Lennon's blog.
Walking Mountain.

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Distracted - Joan Lennon

Charlie Chaplin in Pay Day (1922)
(wiki commons)

I am at the two thirds stage of writing a novel, and I am in the sludge.  I recognise this stage.  I know it's just a question of slogging on through.  I am not enjoying the slog.  And I am in the throes of excessive distractability.  So when I saw an article online on Nir Eval's theories about the nature of distraction, I downed tools and had a read.  (Okay, if I'm honest, I read a bit, got distracted, came back and read a bit more, got distracted ...)

I don't buy the whole package Nir Eyal is proposing - for example, I think that not everything we do is "prompted by the desire to escape discomfort." "It's pain all the way down" is not my kind of mantra.  But the nub of the argument - that distraction doesn't start with the technology out there - it starts with us - I certainly recognised.  

"We use these devices as psychological pacifiers as we are looking for an escape from uncomfortable sensations. And if we don't deal with that fact, we will always find distraction somewhere."

Part of dealing with that fact might be to find out what other people are saying about distraction.  There have been, for example, excellent ABBA posts on the topic - have a visit, for example, to Chitra Soundar's Seven Habits of a Highly Distracted Writer, Clementine Beauvais' On Not Trusting Your Future Self, or Andrew Strong's How to Be Creative.  (Go on - it's an educational and entertaining way of not getting down to, you know, the writing.)

But, yup, this distractability I acknowledge mine, to paraphrase the Bard.  Also, I have no magic cure.  I still have to do the slog, in order to get past the sludge.  I break it down into baby steps, use the timer, mark up every 100 words achieved, give myself tons of tiny treats, and distract the other people in the house who are also trying to write/draw with corking* challenges.

This too shall pass.  (Off now to find out where that comes from ...)

* Corking is a not-quite-yet-Olympic sport where you try to throw Prosecco corks into an empty cat food box from a distance.  Feelings run high.  It is eminently distracting.

Joan Lennon's website.
Joan Lennon's blog.

Friday, 20 September 2019

National Gibberish Day (Revisited) - Joan Lennon

There was a suggestion a while ago that it was all right, from time to time, to re-post favourites from ABBA's long and full-of-favourites past, and I would like to do just that - here is my post for 20 Sept. 2017 on the delights of gibberish, on this annual celebration of gobbledy-gook.  I wish you a


Yes, you heard me correctly.  20 September is National Gibberish* Day.  Why?  Who decides these things?  He gnews?  Jet Pum!**  And to celebrate I give you ...


Not just the words, but two performances that make me chortle in joy:


So, readers and writers and ABBAers of every description, here's to gibberish - and, if you possibly can, shove some into a conversation today.  Fo jensonsicaxar!  Vaxako Rowis Caxallerr pleud!!*** 

* aka Jibber-Jabber

** Who knows?  Not I!  (translations courtesy of My Big Monkey Gibberish Translator - hours of entertainment!)

*** Be nonsensical!  Make Lewis Carroll proud!

P.S.  I love the way the Muppets drew on John Tenniel's original 1871 illustrations for Jabberwocky - so bizarre - so clever!

Joan Lennon's website.
Joan Lennon's blog.
Walking Mountain.

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

How Writing Changes the Writer - Joan Lennon

I'm over on the RLF Vox site* with a podcast on How Writing Changes the Writer.  I couldn't think of an image to add that would fit that title, so instead how about The Young Cicero Reading?

Vincenzo Foppa (1427-1515) 
(wiki commons)

* Vox is a collection of bite-sized podcasts by writers chatting about things writerly.  There is some fabulous browsing to be had!

Joan Lennon's website.
Joan Lennon's blog.
Walking Mountain.

Saturday, 20 July 2019

Still a Water-boatman, After All These Years - Joan Lennon

A decade ago (not down to the second, because I had a different ABBA day of the month back then, but close enough) I was writing this:

A Demolition of Square Brackets

I'm not a sequential, chronological type of writer. By which I mean, starting at the beginning of a story and writing through until I get to the end is as alien to me as sun-bathing. (Though I am not suggesting that writing in a beginning-to-end fashion is carcinogenic or gives you leather for skin.) I am not alone in having a writing style that can be (and has been) described as "water-boatman-like". A scene here - a scene there - concentrated whirling on one spot before ricocheting off to another to whirl again. Eventually I have enough scenes to start to sew them together. As I do that, if I can't think how to make something work, or a seam seem seamless, I put square brackets around it and go play somewhere else. Eventually the holes begin to be closed - a point comes where I must hunt down what cowers between the brackets - and, one by one, I pummel them into prose. Have at thee, square brackets! Are metaphors being mixed? Who cares!

It's a heady feeling, finishing a book!

Time has passed and in those years, the writing process I fell into at the beginning of my career hasn't changed.  Right now I'm at that intoxicating first stage of a novel, whirling and ricocheting.  I know this means I'll have a hard time ahead, pulling it all together and demolishing the square brackets.  But right now, I don't care.

It's a heady feeling, starting a book!

Tell us about your favourite stage - when do you get your heady feeling? 

Joan Lennon's website.
Joan Lennon's blog.
Slightly Jones and the London Dragonfish 
(the book I was just finishing way back then)

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Resources Worth At Least Two Cows - Joan Lennon

I write historical fiction for children and young people, so of course I think that is an excellent way of bringing the past to life.  I read historical fiction, and non-fiction, and have a long-standing unfulfilled dream of being an archaeologist.*  But I also keep stumbling across online resources that illuminate aspects of times gone stunningly.  Here are a few of my favourites:

I love any and all of Prior Attire's videos -

There's this mesmerising video showing how the borders and populations of Europe ebb and flow from 400 BCE to 2017 CE -

And I recently discovered this historical currency converter from The National Archives.  Did you know that in 1270, £1 was worth £729.83?  And that with it you could buy 1 horse, 2 cows, or pay the wages of a skilled tradesman for 100 days?  Two hundred years later, in 1470, it was worth £685.79 and you could still get a horse or 2 cows for it, but only 33 days of work from a skilled tradesman.  In 1850, you'd need £15. to get that horse or those 2 cows, or a whopping 75 days' worth of work from a skilled tradesman.  

Edward Hicks The Cornell Farm 1848
wiki commons

What online resources have you found that help to make the past more vivid and accessible, to yourself or to your pupils or children? 

* Ignore my cronky knees and dodgy back - just give me a trowel and a toothbrush!

Joan Lennon's website.
Joan Lennon's blog.
Silver Skin, The Slightly Jones Mysteries, The Wickit Chronicles