Showing posts with label Keren David. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Keren David. Show all posts

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

What has the past ever done for us? Anne Rooney

For a long time, I have wanted to write a book about the shameful roots of the UK's success — indeed the whole edifice of western culture. Of course, no publisher wants such a book for children; it undermines the national curriculum view of Britain and it has only a UK market. No one wants (or wanted, until this week) to admit that much of the wealth of Europe rests on slavery. (Though remember that Western Europe was already dominant and rich before slavery; the USA's wealth has slavery as its bedrock. We need to look further back, at other abuses, too, to understand Europe. We have a long history of criminal treatment of others.) No one wants to know that the entire American space mission and much of its technological success is built on whisking Nazi scientists away from Germany at the end of the Second World War and giving them immunity in exchange for their ideas and expertise. No one wants to know about the atrocities committed in Imperial India or colonial Africa, or how Europeans, possibly deliberately, infected indigenous Americans with diseases that would wipe them out, and certainly did nothing to prevent it, because it was a quick and easy way of freeing land from its troublesome owners.

Keren David said here yesterday that she didn't learn about slavery in school. I did, though I grew up in white rural England. And not only slavery. In ways that weren't apparent at the time, I was lucky to go to a large comprehensive (one of the first) with a very mixed intake. (Socially but not ethnically mixed; there were few pupils who were not white.) Even luckier, there was no national curriculum and the headmaster and his wife, who also taught there, were both historians. 

Our history began with anthropology, and how modern humans first emerged in Africa. The first picture in my history exercise book, drawn when I was eleven, was of a naked black man standing behind a rock and throwing a spear at an animal he wanted to eat. We did not do the Stone Age as white people wearing furs and living in caves. (I would now take issue with the idea that men were always the hunters, but no matter.) History didn't start with Romans; it started in Africa, with prehistory. Then we did Mesopotamia before we did Egypt, before we did a tiny bit on the Greeks and then quite a lot on Romans because it's easier to inspire a bunch of 12-year-olds to make a model gladiatorial sword or Colesseum than to get them to write a tragedy or establish a democracy — though we did have a democratic school council.

We did Saxons and Vikings, of course, and the Middle Ages and then all the usual Tudor stuff. I don't remember how those parts were presented as they have been overlaid by what I have done since, though there was a fair bit of plague death and emancipation of serfs. But then we did slavery, beginning with the terrible conditions in slave ships, and we did the Industrial Revolution with a major focus on abuse of the urban poor. We learned about England's part in the shipping of slaves. We did no American history except the plantations. We did abolition. I think we mostly stopped there, because the GCE curriculum started at 1848 so we would get enough of modern Europe. Britain didn't feature heavily in GCE, but it was all revolutions and wars: unification of Italy and Germany, Franco-Prussian war. A little bit about colonialism in Africa, but only as it fed into European conflicts. The First World War, the Treaty of Versailles, and a tiny look ahead at the Weimar Republic and the rise of fascism, but only as consequences of Versailles. A fair amount on Russia, the overthrow of the monarchy, the Bolsheviks, the rise of Communism. No mention of 1918 flu. No mention of the USA, Australia, India, the Far East — except a lesson the Boxer Rebellion and the Opium Wars because that could be called European. This was a curriculum set by an exam board, no longer by an enthusiast who wanted his pupils to understand where they came from. (We did Florence Nightingale and the Crimean, the great London fogs, and the cholera epidemics, but i think that was in biology.)

My father was disappointed that I couldn't give the dates of key battles, that I didn't know all the kings and queens of England in order and that I knew more about the slaughter of North American Indians (bad thing to know) than the glories of Empire dominating Indian Indians (good thing to know). He felt it unpatriotic to highlight the bad things in our history, and this, I fear, is at the root also of how history is usually taught in this country (and probably many others).

If you mix history with patriotism, it seems, you have to miss things out. Your own glories are writ large. The defeat of the Nazis was no doubt a great and essential achievement, but we are not allowed to examine it too closely. We aren't allowed to point to the fire-bombing of Dresden or the starvation of post-war German civilians in Berlin and ask if we can learn something useful about avoiding so many civilian casualties in future (especially when the war was actually over). Why do people now talk of the 70-year peace in Europe, supposedly achieved by crushing the Nazis? Why do we have to have an unmitigated story of success? What peace? Why did Europe stand by and let Srebenica happen?  Where were those peace-proclaimers looking when Greece was ruled by the Generals? During the Portuguese revolution? While Ceaușescu, Tito and Hoxha killed their own nationals in vast numbers?  *While we killed our own citizens in Northern Ireland, ffs?* Our prosperity and our teaching of history are rooted in ignoring the people who aren't like 'us' — 'us' being privately-educated, rich, white men — and drawng a veil over our more shameful acts. Actually, it's even worse than that: sometimes, it's not even recognising the shameful acts for what they were, but glorifying them.

The picture at the top of this post hangs in the Houses of Parliament. It shows Elizabeth I delivering a commission to Raleigh in 1584 to go and steal the lands of the indigenous North Americans and slaughter or subjugate the inhabitants: 'to discover unknown lands, to take possession of them in the Queen's name, and to hold them for 6 years'. The painting is, like, Colston's statue recently toppled in Bristol, a product of empire and imperial pride, this one produced in 1925, 30 years after the statue. This is the sort of thing our MPs see on the walls, reinforcing — at best, not challenging — the idea that this was a Good Thing. It is in the series of works that, according to parliament's website, shows how our nation was built. Not even a hint of 'maybe it wasn't a good idea?' We now venerate the abolitionists (yes, they had their limitations, but still an improvement) and the suffragists, yet dare not, somehow, ask why they were needed and what that says about the events we glorify in 'building our nation'.

I don't claim any credit for knowing about slavery as a child. It was ENTIRELY down to good teaching. At the time, of course, I had no inkling how lucky I was, or that I had an amazing teacher, doing his best in a definitely very right-wing region to chip away at the carapace of complacency. I have recounted my patchwork of historical education only to show that if we can cover some of this, which is more important than the Battle of Trafalgar or some other white-men-kill-each-other history, maybe future children will look at such statues and paintings and ask why the hell we are venerating this shit? I was lucky — or was I privileged? I am very uncomfortable with the word 'privilege' as it's currently used, as it's lazy. I think it was a privilege to be taught by a humane, erudite, compassionate history teacher. If I had gone to a public school, I would have learned the invasion of America as a success story, not a violation that spawned further atrocities. In common parlance that would be considered 'privileged', yet I would consider it deprived — or deceived, lied to, misled, intellectually abused... We need to redefne privilege in a way that doesn't validate the views of the so-called privileged.

I'm not sure whether patriotism and honest history are really at odds. I would not say I am patriotic: I feel primarily European, so I'm not qualified to comment on nationalistic patriotism. But if patriotism is a kind of biggified local interest, it must surely benefit from forensic examination of its past, including — especially — the mistakes. We mustn't sweep them under the carpet. Or into the sea. Personally, I think the statue should be hauled out and left to moulder on the quay with a new plaque owning up to its disgraceful history. Or, as an archaeologist friend suggested yesterday, put in a museum, lying down, with its triumphant desecration intact and with a proper explanation. Out of sight is out of mind, all too soon. In sight, as we see with the painting of Gloriana's commission, is very much in mind.

If you feel that history should be taught more in this vein in the UK, there is a petition here you might like to sign.

Anne Rooney

Latest book (as far as I can tell, but who knows, these days?)
HarperColllins, May 2020:

Thursday, 30 August 2018

So you want to write, by Sophia Bennett

Back to school time.

I always love this time of year. The occasional smell of burning leaves, the autumn colours, the trip to WH Smith to fill up your pencil case with new rubbers and gel tip pens you probably won't use ...

Except, now I'm the teacher. I teach at St George's Hospital, where I'm the Royal Literary Fund Fellow. Funded by Winnie the Pooh, my job is to help medical students who haven't written an essay in years suddenly tackle a research proposal of 2,000 words, or a final year dissertation.

I also (because, as we all know, very very few writers these days can afford to write full-time, and also, it turns out, because I really love it) teach writing for children at City University. This is not 'writing' for-children-at-City (that would be weird), but 'writing for children' for adults who choose to attend a short 10-week course at City, because they think they have a children's book or two inside them, and they're not sure how to get it out.

I've done both for a while now, and while a medical dissertation and a gripping chapter book for seven year-olds may not seem to have a lot in common, here are a few tips I've learned that help if you are stuck, whatever kind of writing you are trying to do.

  1. Don't try too hard to make your writing look 'difficult'. This is especially true of new students trying to impress their professor with their medical knowledge, by using as many long words, sentences and paragraphs as they can think of.
  2. If in doubt, start on chapter two. Or section 2, if it's an essay. I suggest that at first, my medical students leave out that all-important introduction. It's a nightmare! I get them to try writing the bit they know well first, and go from there. They can go back to the introduction later, when they have a structure and know what they're introducing. And if it's a book, students may just find they don't need that missed-out Chapter 1 at all. You started with the action. Somehow you fitted in more of the backstory than you expected to, without going overboard with it. The reader is gripped. You just saved yourself a month of worry. You're welcome. 
  3. Read your work aloud. 
  4. Read your work aloud. 
  5. Read your work aloud. 
  6. READ YOUR WORK ALOUD! If they do only one thing, it should be this. Best of all, at City I ask them to get someone else to read it for them. (Not my idea - Keren David taught it to me.) Instantly, they hear what jars, what doesn't make sense, what takes too long, what's boring, what's really-quite-good-actually, what works. Medical students get so much from it too. They see where their argument has gone a bit flabby, and where they used words whose meaning they weren't entirely sure of (see point 1) and didn't entirely get away with it. 
  7. Don't try to say too much at the beginning. Grip the reader. Let me know what direction I'm heading in. (See point 1 and point 2). I don't want detail yet. I want to trust you as a writer. Tell me what this is about. Let me hear your voice. Give me an intriguing image or two. Get me on your side. Then you can bamboozle me with facts and backstory.
  8. Ah, voice. As Joan Lennon recently said on this blog, it's the thing that matters. I liken voice to the late Terry Wogan. (Not to the medical students who, bless them, would have no idea who I'm talking about. I am about 104.) Remember - do you remember? - when his dark honey voice reached you from the radio? He sounded so confident, so pleased about what he was going to tell you, and he was going to tell it to only you. It was as if he'd put his arm around your shoulder and was walking beside you. A great voice sounds incredibly easy, as if the writer simply couldn't do it any other way, and it is SO BLOOMIN' DIFFICULT. I struggle with it every single time. It takes me longer than anything. But without it, I might as well not bother because it's what makes the reader want to know my story. 
  9. If a sentence can be short, great. 
  10. Read. I know we all know this. All the best medical students I see have one thing in common: they read in their spare time, or they certainly used to until recently. Many of them didn't discover reading for pleasure until their teens, but then they read voraciously. They're embarrassed about doing it now ('It's only novels', 'It's only biographies', 'It's only things I like from magazines') because they think they have to be studying medicine 24/7, but simply by reading, they've absorbed by osmosis most of the things I have to tell their friends. And my City students delight me with how much reading they do between classes, on top of their regular jobs and looking after their families. They learn. They grow. You can see it in their writing. 

    Reading for pleasure is the most important thing. It's why I cling on to every school librarian, teacher and bookseller I meet. I know we all work so hard to keep libraries open and support our indie booksellers, because we know what a fabulous job they do - not only making our work available, but opening up the world of the imagination to a new generation. If you have ever encouraged a child or a young adult to find a book they love, you have my undying appreciation. Thank you! You're educating new writers more than I ever could. 
Sophia Bennett
Twitter - @sophiabennett

Friday, 5 August 2016

About 'Stories From The Edge' by Savita Kalhan

The first books I read as a child were collections and treasuries of fairy stories, folk tales, myths and legends from across the world. They were short stories, perfectly formed, each very different and enthralling, and I loved them. Somewhere along the line, I began reading chapter books, and then quickly moved onto novels. I think the same is true for lots of kids, but not all. 

There are lots of teenagers who only read what they have to read for English at school. They often don't have the time or the inclination to read novels for pleasure. I am aware of a few schools where kids are not allowed to bring in their own books to read in school. The school prescribes what they can read for pleasure - in one particular school books are pre-loaded onto kindles and those are the only books the kids are allowed to read. They don't have a choice. Part of the pleasure in reading is surely in being able to have some say over what you read for pleasure - even for kids!

I read lots of short stories - and I enjoy writing them too. Short stories are similar to novels in some ways, but they have their own identity. Edgar Allan Poe, in his essay "The Philosophy of Composition," said that a short story should be read in one sitting, anywhere from a half hour to two hours. Short stories developed from the traditional art of oral story-telling from fables and anecdotes, which are present in every culture, so by definition they have to be short. Modern short stories often focus on a pivotal moment or emotion or mood, whereas in the past they were more rooted in parables and ethics with the stories having a beginning, middle and end, but both usually focus on one main character with one central theme. There is also more experimentation in the prose and style of a short story, which may not work in a novel.

I have always read short stories, and I have wondered why there were so few anthologies for teenagers. Well, I have been involved in a project that brings a new anthology into schools.

Apart from being a member of the amazing Scattered Authors Society, I also belong to a small collective of teen writers. There are eight of us: me, Sara Grant, Dave Cousins, Miriam Halahmy, Keren David, Katie Dale, Paula Rawsthorne and Bryony Pearce, and we all write edgy fiction for teens and young adults. We call ourselves The Edge. We blog together, and often do school and library events together, and last year we decided to write an anthology together.

It has been an interesting process. Our only remits were that the stories should be up to five thousand words and be suitable for teens and young adults. Because we all write edgy fiction, we knew the stories would all have an edge to them - and they do. They range from stories about doping in sport, online grooming, racism, gender, terrorism, grief and loss, love and life, to name some of the themes in the stories.

What we're hoping for is that the stories inspire reading and discussion and debate amongst teens and young adults. To aid teachers and school librarians, we've also written discussion guides with suggested topics for discussion and creative writing exercises.

My short story for the anthology is called Aladdin's Lamp. It's a story about a sixteen year old Indian girl called Priti who doesn't want her best friend to leave India and doesn't want to be married and settled. Her parents have other ideas and so a suitor comes to the house. Priti wishes she had an Aladdin's lamp so that she could wish the suitors to go away, but in the story she finds out that you have to be careful what you wish for...

I will tell you no more so I don't spoil the story for you!

The stories in the anthology are accessible, diverse and thought-provoking, and that's the wonderful thing about an anthology - you can dip into it and find something different each time. I hope our teen readers will dip into the anthology and find something they like, a story, an author, or just some pleasure from reading something different.

“The short story is a very powerful weapon in the hands of a librarian or teacher . . . I guarantee that these stories will leave readers gasping for more. But most importantly they will get teen readers thinking and talking.” — Joy Court, Chair: CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Medals; Reviews Editor: The School Librarian 

Stories from The Edge is out on KindlePaperback, and here for Educational and Library sales.


Savita's website, on Facebook, and Twitter

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Feel the Fear, continued. By Keren David

A couple of days ago Cecilia Busby wrote an excellent post on diversity in children's literature.  I hope she will not mind if I pick up her post and write about the fear involved in writing about a minority group even when you happen to belong to it.

In my up-coming book, This is Not a Love Story, there is a diverse cast. There is an African-American  girl, and a bisexual boy.  The mixing of cultures, the judging and the misunderstanding and the lack of comprehension that can arise is one of the themes of the book.

I was not especially worried about imagining my way into the heads of these characters. For me, they were individuals, with their own histories, as easy to imagine as any other person.  I hope that I have got them right. I do not have great worries about having tried to imagine what it is like to be them.  I want all my books to reflect the diverse world in which I live.

I've posted before about why I decided to write about Jewish teenagers in this book. I was not expecting to find it so difficult. Suddenly I had a load of new fears and worries to deal with, that I'd never had to grapple with before.

Here are some of the questions that I thought about.

 -  How to get the voices right - without my characters explaining words and concepts to themselves that they'd know, but their readers may not.
 -  How to show a range of experiences which all fit into the general heading 'Jewish' -  to go against the impression given in school RE lessons that  Jews 'believe' certain things, and are defined by those beliefs.
 - How to show frustration with tradition, anger within a family, the flaws of a community  without falling into stereotypes, self-deprecation, disrespect and, at the worst, anti-semitism.
 -  How to talk about the Holocaust -  difficult enough in real life, let alone a book. 
 -  How to portray the London Jewish community and some of the kids within it, without generalising too much.
 -  Was there a danger of being labelled as a Jewish writer?
 - Were my thoughts and experiences in any way representative? Did that matter? 
 -  Should I write about Israel, even though it was not very relevant to my characters? Should I write about antisemitism? (The bulk of the book was written before the summer of 2014, otherwise my answers to these questions might have been different)
 - How to do all of this without upsetting a) my mother b) my kids c) the wider Jewish community.

It took forever to find the voices of my narrators, partly because of these questions. In despair, I sent some early chapters to my brother (he has a PhD in English Literature from Oxford University, and occasionally can be helpful) 'Lose the Jewish stuff,' he said.  I persevered, and showed an early draft to my mother. 'Well,' she said, 'You're obviously very disturbed.'  (She relented once she read the final version)  Later drafts were showed to some Jewish friends. They demanded: 'Why are you using words like 'frummer'? No one will understand!'  I carried on, regardless.

There is a lot of talk about anti-semitism around at the moment. I'm curious to see if there's any hostility to my book as a result. Jewish people, unlike many other minority groups, can often hide their difference. Our fear is often about being visible. And so, like Cecilia, I am feeling the fear and doing it anyway.

Oh, and my kids haven't read it yet.

This is Not a Love Story is published by Atom on May 7. 

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Being a Real Person Sheena Wilkinson

I’ve just become Ireland’s first Patron of Reading. Trinity Comprehensive School, Ballymun, is a north Dublin school in an area which was, in the past, a byword for deprivation. In recent years, Ballymun has been the subject of a huge regeneration programme, and it’s a place where I have been welcomed since I did my very first school visit there four years ago.

This was drawn by the principal, Ms Fran Neary.

where it all started 
In 2011, my first novel, Taking Flight, had just come out, and I’d only done a few local visits in Belfast schools. I was a fulltime teacher so I wasn’t nervous about talking to teenagers, but when the invitation from Trinity Comprehensive came in, it felt different. It was the first time I realised that readers outside Northern Ireland would connect with my characters. Joe Kelly, Trinity’s wonderful librarian, assured me that his pupils had liked Taking Flight ‘because it seemed so real to them.’

That was the first of many visits to the school. I’ve done lots of talks and workshops in the library which is, like all good school libraries, central to the school, promoting literacy in its widest sense. I think I kept being invited back because I’m unpretentious and realistic. Earlier this year Joe and I decided to formalise the relationship by designating me Trinity’s Patron of Reading. I’m sure readers of this blog are familiar with the PoR scheme. It’s an excellent way for schools to connect with writers, and for writers to connect with readers. When I attended a ceremony in Trinity last month to mark becoming its Patron, one of the things I promised to do was to use my December ABBA post to celebrate being Ireland’s first PoR.
me on a school visit -- unglamorous but real 

In the last week, however, my thoughts have also been exercised by the furore over ghost-writing, transparency, and celebrity culture. There’s been a lot of nonsense in the media, as well as a lot of good common sense – not least here on ABBA: thank you, Keren David.

How does this link with the PoR scheme, and with school visits in general? I think the most important thing about authors visiting schools is that they make things real for the pupils. As a child, I had little concept of my favourite writers as actual people. The books just sort of appeared in the library, as if by magic, though I gleaned every little snippet of biographical information I could from the dust flap. When I wrote to Antonia Forest and she wrote back it felt like the most exciting thing that had ever happened anyone – to have a letter written by the same hand that had written the Marlow novels. (And I should point out that I was 23 and a PhD student at the time.)

the book that drove me mad
What I always emphasise on school visits is that writing is a process, and often a fairly torturous one. I don’t pretend to write quickly and easily. I show the pupils the whole journey of a novel, from notebooks with rough planning, through printed-out and much scribbled over drafts, to the final book. I’m not precious – I tell them about the times when it’s been hard; I show them a six-page critique of an early draft of Taking Flight, and point out that there is a short paragraph of ‘Positives’ followed by five and half pages of ‘Issues to Consider’. I tell them about going to an editorial meeting to discuss Still Falling, and how my editors spent five minutes telling me what they liked about the novel and 55 minutes telling me what wasn’t working.

I’m not trying to put kids off. I always emphasise that making things up is magical, and seeing your ideas develop into actual stories that people read is the best thing in the world. But I do let them see that it involves a lot of hard work.

Nowadays I think that’s even more important. I once shared a platform with two children who had self-published. It was a ridiculous, uncomfortable event: there I was talking about hard work and rejection and editing and how hard it is to get published, and there were these two little pre-teen moppets with their shiny books. The primary school audience, who won’t have known the difference between self-publishing and commercial publishing, probably thought I was some kind of slow learner. But I least I told them the truth.

Honesty. I think we need more of it. I’m so proud to be Ireland’s first Patron of Reading, and I intend to keep on being honest about writing as a magical, but difficult craft.
Trinity Comprehensive School, Ballymun.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

It's Our Turn Now! Celebrating Project #UKYA - Lucy Coats

If you haven't already heard about it, I'd like to introduce you to Project UKYA, set up in September 2013 by Lucy Powrie, a teenage Force for Good, and a manic bibliophile. Essentially, Lucy has come up with the brilliant idea of blowing the trumpet loudly and publicly for UK Young Adult authors and their books, with a different 'project' happening each month. Right now there's a marvellously wide-ranging series of chats going on on Twitter under the hashtag #ukyachat. People are sharing books they love, and talking about different aspects of UKYA. Next month a new longterm project launches - a monthly (to begin with) 'livechat' on YouTube, talking about the latest UKYA releases, discussing UKYA books and much more, including special guests and author Q and As.

Why does this matter? It matters because YA from the US has held the balance of power in the public perception of YA for far too long. While the likes of Twilight, The Hunger Games and The Mortal Instruments have all sold millions of copies and had films made in a relatively short time after publication, UK YA authors have been lagging behind in terms both of sales and of international recognition. We need to try and change that, because the pool of UK writing talent is immense, and yes, I'm going to say it, just as good if not better than anything coming out of America. All of us who care about books and reading need to work together to get the word out there to YA readers about just how good British books are at the moment.

This is absolutely not to denigrate US writers - I'm very excited currently about Laini Taylor and Sarah J Maas's forthcoming titles, among others. It's just that I'm equally excited - or more so - about Clare Furniss's Year of the Rat, Keren David's Salvage, Teri Terry's Shattered, Claire McFall's Bombmaker, Ruth Warburton's Witchfinder, Gillian Philip's Icefall, Ellen Renner's Tribute, James Dawson's Cruel Summer, Candy Gourlay's Shine and the new film of Anthony McGowan's The Knife that Killed Me. And that's just touching the surface of what's out there right now. I could spend the rest of this post just making a list of great UKYA books and writers (don't worry, I won't).

So, really what I'm asking you to do here is to support Project UKYA. Follow it on Twitter and take part in the chat, join its Facebook page, read and comment on the blog - but above all, spread the word about its existence to everyone you know who loves good books. UKYA books and authors deserve to be known and celebrated all over the world - let's be the pebbles which start the avalanche.

Monday, 5 August 2013

In the beginning... by Savita Kalhan

The opening few lines of a book are probably the most important the writer writes. They represent the key to the door, the invitation for the reader to step through and enter the story. Openings are the hook. Obviously the rest of the story must live up to the opening, but without the hook of the beginning, the rest of the story might not get a look in.

Opening lines may set the scene, the tone, the style, the action; they are a unique hook individual to the author, and running through them will be the voice that defines the author – and if you like that author’s voice you come back for more, for more stories by that author. As a reader, if I love one book by a particular writer, I’ll want to read everything else by that writer. “...there's one thing I'm sure about. An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.” Stephen King

I have an odd habit of writing opening lines, opening paragraphs, and occasionally opening chapters. I’ll work on them when I’m in between books and projects, rewriting them, refining them; I’ll add to the collection too if I’m feeling inspired. I’ve got a whole file of them, full of ideas for stories in a variety of genres, full of characters and a world of voices. I’ll use some of them in creative writing workshops, allowing the pupils to choose an opening paragraph to continue a story. Often I’ll use them myself. I’ve been doing it for a long time. It’s the way I find my next book, the next voice. Having them on the back burner feels very much like having a safety blanket. I don’t really plot a book, I’m not a plotter but a panster, who lets the opening paragraph take me on a journey. The back burner simmers away until one of the openings reaches out and grabs me, ripe and ready to become something more. I used to think that this habit was peculiar to me, until I talked to a few other writers, and recently I read that Stephen King agonises over his opening lines. So maybe I’m not that odd after all! I bet many other writers share the agony over the opening lines... 

Here are a couple of mine: “It’s tough being the new kid, but when you’re not the only one it’s not so bad. The problem was Sam was always the new kid and always the only one...” The Long Weekend 
“I sat staring into space. It was empty, the way space should be, vast, endless, and empty. Except it wasn’t vast and endless. There were four walls and a small window. I was lucky to have a cell with a window...” The Poet, A short story. 

 Here are just a few of my favourite opening lines:
 “Once upon a time...” 
 “Kidnapping children is never a good idea; all the same, sometimes it has to be done...” Island of the Aunts by Eva Ibbotson 
 “There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.” The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman 
 “Where’s Papa going with that ax?” Charlotte’s Web by E B White 
 “If you’re interested in stories with happy endings, you’d be better off reading some other book.” The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket. 
 “Against the white cliffs, the girl in the red dress was as vivid as a drop of blood.” Cruel Summer by James Dawson. 
 “They come to kill me early in the morning. At 6 am when the sky is pink and misty grey, the seagulls are crying overhead and the beach is empty.” Almost True by Keren David 
 “When Ben got home from school, he found something good, something bad and something worse...” The Catkin by Nick Green 
 “My life might have been so different had I not been known as the girl whose grandmother exploded...” The Vanishing of Katherina Linden by Helen Grant 

Here’s a link to a fun first lines quiz from The Guardian to mull over while you’re having a break:

 What are your favourite first lines? Twitter @savitakalhan

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Threesome by Keren David

It's not something I've done before, and I wouldn't especially recommend it, but for the last nine months I've been working on three projects at once. Yes, a creative threesome. It's a little like I imagine being pregnant with triplets -  uncomfortable, exhausting and a bit scary. Occasionally it's overwhelming, more like grappling with a three-headed monster. On those days it's best to retreat and read someone else's books until my mind stops jangling.
A lot to grapple with
It can be done though. They key, I find is to block out chunks of time to concentrate on each project. I can't cope with working on all three every day -  work just grinds to a halt on all three. Much better to spend a week on one, then change track and pick up another one. 
There are advantages. I never have enough time to get bored with any one of them. I spend a lot of time reading my way back in, so I encounter each book as a reader far more often than I would if I was only working on one book.
Voice is more difficult to maintain, moving from project to project, and it forces me to plan ahead more than usual -  no bad thing, I've found. I'm newly in love with post-its and chapter plans, although they never quite work out as I think they will.
Best of all it means I am never  sitting idly waiting for an editor to reply. I have work to do all the time. In fact, I have too much work to do all the time.
I'm nearing the day when I can slay the three-headed monster. One book (Salvage, a contemporary YA book about how adoption affects siblings Aidan and Cass) will be published by Atom in January 2014 and is at the copy-editing stage. 
A shameless plug....
The  musical version of my book Lia's Guide to Winning the Lottery  is going to be performed next week at London's Bridewell Theatre by the very talented students of the Musical Theatre Academy. It's not the final version of the show, so work will start again after the performance, but the level of urgency and the commitment to a rehearsal schedule will be somewhat lessened. 
So in a few weeks I'll be back down to one book again -  a project that I call my mad historical novel, which is at the structural edit stage. I'll have room to think. I might even come up with some new ideas.
I'm interested to know how other writers cope with clashing projects. Do you like working on more than one WiP at once?
The funny thing is that it now seems lazy and odd to only have one book to write. Maybe I'm destined to be forever pregnant with triplets. 

Saturday, 15 September 2012

In praise of Guinea Pigs by Keren David

Chester's favourite activity: eating
My family suffered a sad loss this week, when Chester, my daughter's Abyssinian guinea pig died at the age of three. 
Chester was sweet-natured and shy, stylish with his raffish whorls of silky black fur. Even on the day he died, his beauty drew admiring comments from total strangers.
 He was the perfect foil for his hutchmate Freddie, the more social and active of the two.  They never fought (unless there was a particularly tasty bit of celery) and Freddie sometimes used Chester as a pillow to sleep on.
. What a shame we don't live in Switzerland, where it is illegal to keep a lone guinea pig -  they are social animals who need their friends -  but where you can rent a guinea to keep your newly bereaved cavy company until he or she goes to the big pile of hay in the sky. This week the hutch seemed large and lonely with only one inhabitant, and we have already made enquiries about a new companion for Freddie. I can see that I am  caught in a never-ending pig-to-pig chain which will probably last long after my children leave home. In fact it'll probably go on forever. But I don't care because guinea pigs are the most delightful of pets, stoical, undemanding, cuddly, squeaky and greedy, they jump with joy, a move delightfully known as 'popcorning'.
Tug and war with a piece of grass

Much-loved and much-missed.
In Chester’s honour, I’ve been making a list of guinea pigs in children’s literature. Here are my five favourites.


Olga da Polga – by Michael Bond, creator of Paddington. Guinea pig Olga da Polga is a teller of tall tales. As guinea pigs love to talk, having long conversations in Clanger-whistles and squeaks, this is entirely plausible.


My Uncle is a Hunkle by Lauren Child.  Clarice Bean is looking after the class guinea pig, but he’s been stolen by the boy next door. Who better to call than Clarice’s hunkle of an uncle and his firefighting colleagues. A book which combines two essential truths First, looking after someone else's  pet  is a terrifying responsibility, and second, firefighters  are  universally fit and handsome.


Sophie in  Cold Tom by Sally Prue. How I feared for Sophie, as she was eyed by the mysterious Tom, who saw her as nothing more than a tender piece of meat. But luckily her owner Anna kept her from danger.


    I Love Guinea Pigs by Dick King Smith. A glorious celebration of the loveliness of guinea pigs by an author who knew and loved them well.  He describes their foibles and habits and remembers much-loved pets now sadly departed. The illustrations, by Anita Jearn, show the wonderful diversity of texture and colours, from sleek, satiny guineas to the ones that look like powder puffs.


Guinea Pigs Online by Amanda Smith and Jennifer Gray. I must declare an interest here, Amanda and Jennifer are members of a writing group that I belong to and GPO was the result of a brainstorming session that we help. Neither Amanda or Jennifer own guinea pigs, but I do, and so did another group member, so we acted as expert advisers. The books are exciting, hilarious and just a tiny bit a good way!
The main piggies are Coco (who’s a bit posh) and Fluffy (an expert cook),but there’s also Banoffee, who has multiple children, Terry, a techno genius and Eduardo, the dashing Peruvian freedom fighter. If you're going to have a guinea pig as love interest, then Eduardo's the perfect choice.
Can anyone think of any more?