Showing posts with label Marie-Louise Jensen. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Marie-Louise Jensen. Show all posts

Friday, 5 December 2014

Favourite Teen/YA Reads of 2014 by Savita Kalhan

In January this year I decided to challenge myself to reading 55 books. I did it through Goodreads to track what I’ve read and when I’ve read it. Some of the books I’ve read have been for ‘work’, some for research and others for sheer pleasure.

My to-be-read pile is always huge and there never seems to be enough time for reading, so doing it this way keeps me on track – the message: you’re x number of books behind is enough to spur me on to make more reading time. Apparently, I’m ‘on track’, with a few weeks to go before December 31st by which time I’ll hopefully have made it to the magic 55 books read mark. Looking back over my list of books read, I thought I’d share some of my favourite teen/YA reads of the year.

Buffalo Soldier by Tanya Landman

The Hob and the Deerman by Pat Walsh

The Case of the Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

Wish Me Dead by Helen Grant

Between Two Seas by Marie-Louise Jensen
The Unicorn Hunter by Che Golden

Apache by Tanya Landman

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

I’ll stop there or else it’ll end up being a very long list! It also makes me wish I had read more of my to-be-read pile.

I hope you’ll share some of your favourite teen/YA reads of the year in the comments – the more book recommendations I get the bigger my smile! Merry Christmas!


Sunday, 10 July 2011

Books for Boys and Girls - Marie-Louise Jensen and David Calcutt

David Calcutt is the author of Shadow Bringer and Map of Marvels.
Marie-Louise Jensen is the author of The Lady in the Tower and Sigrun’s Secret.


What were the elements that appealed particularly to you in the books you read as a boy?

I liked mystery and adventure, magical and sinister happenings and characters. I looked for a sense of timelessness that was beyond the narrow confines of my own world, which I later came to discover was the mythic, which I believe is the centre of all true stories. A certain poetry, which was to do with the sheer joy and inventiveness of language. I liked books about animals - "Tarka the Otter" has always been a favourite. I liked books with dogs in.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Who's the Girl on the Cover? by Marie-Louise Jensen

This is possibly the question I get asked most often about my books. Many people assume that the girls on the cover are my daughters (in fact I have sons) or friends of mine. Or that at very least I've met them and chosen them.

The truth is very different. Many people are genuinely surprised to hear that authors aren't involved in cover design. It's the publishers choice, and as an author you hope and assume they are more expert in selecting a face than the author would be. If your publisher is nice, you are consulted along the way. Occasionally they'll even listen if you don't think it's right. But ultimately I know almost nothing about design or sales and marketing and they have trained experts.

What about the title then? Do authors choose titles? Well, that is far more likely than choosing the cover. I've only chosen one out of five of my titles, but that's because I'm not very good at thinking catchy titles up. Many authors do come up with their own titles and I'm sure publishers are pleased to be saved the work.

And the cover copy or blurb? Do we write that? Generally, no we don't. It's harder than you might think to make your own story sound enticing. I've sometimes collaborated on the cover copy or made suggestions, but I've also sometimes only changed one word. It's something I'm more than happy NOT to do if there's no need.

I'd far rather get on with the next story. That's the part I do best.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Literary Genres by Marie-Louise Jensen

I've just read an interesting piece on Stephen Hunt's website, about the invisibility of genre fiction on World Book Night and its general invisiblity in the media. The discussion was mainly about adult fiction, but so many of the points seemed to me to be relevant to the world of young people's fiction, that I feel impelled to look at a couple of them here.
Of course our starting point is that children's fiction is already the Cinderella of the fiction world. But let's leave that aside for now. Martin Amis' offensive remarks have already been responded to thoroughly here.
The general bone of contention is that so-called genre writers feel they are looked down on, ignored and passed over for writers of contemporary fiction. In children's fiction, I would personally refer to that as 'issue fiction' for reasons I will explain presently.
When I first started reading and studying fiction for young people and looking at reviews and esecially prize lists back in about 2004, it struck me immediately that the majority of the books that make those lists are issue fiction. This is particuarly true of the Carnegie prize, where it's rare to see genre fiction, unless it's suitably dark and adult.
Historical fiction is sometimes taken seriously, but woe betide any writers who have the poor judgement to include a love story, because that will relegate them to the trash pile at once. A group of us have recently found that to be true when we considered joining a newly-established history association that has allegedly banned all works of romance from their august and select group.
But is issue fiction intrinsically better or more worthwhile than science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, horror or chicklit?
The answer has to be: of course not. There will be 'good' and 'bad' books in all genres. So why is it so over-represented? It isn't what is read most or sells best. The prize for that would probably go to fantasy, spy books or chicklit publications for that. Any children's author probably knows that it's fantasy that sells best in the foreign rights market, for example.
Chicklit is contemporary fiction, and yet is just as ignored as any science fiction books. This is why I earlier drew the distinction between issue fiction and contemporary fiction. In fact the Queen of Teen award recently drew some most ill-considered remarks from a well-known writer for young people who ought to have known better. She suggested most strongly that it was all trash and criminalised the reading of it.
So why would that author - who is not alone in her position by any means - lift her voice against her sisters in fiction-writing and denounce their work?
I do believe that this snobbishness spreads into our world of children's fiction. That many people like to look down on genre fiction - and chick lit above all is considered fair game by almost everyone. (I noticed Stephen Hunt didn't defend or mention chicklit in his rant. Even he, the defender of genre fiction, probably secretly likes to look down on it; the exploration of women's feelings and relationships a fearful, unknown world to him!)
What I can't explain is why. I think all the genres have an equal amount to offer the population and are all of value, each in their own way. I certainly read the whole lot when I was growing up. From Enid Blyton, to pony stories, to Tolkein to a huge selection of the classics. And I'm quite sure I was all the better for it.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Book Launch Day by Marie-Louise Jensen

My fourth book, Sigrun's Secret, was published at the beginning of January. But it's today, with a launch party at Bath Waterstone's for friends, family and any members of the reading public who decide to come along, that it feels like the book is real at last.
The current climate is not optimistic for books or for reading; we have a coalition government who seem determined to wreck our public and school libraries with destructive cuts, and it's difficult not to fear for diversity of books and widespread access to reading acoss the population in the years ahead. When libraries are closing wholesale and librarian friends who've worked hard to promote reading in state schools are unjustly being made redundant, it's hard to look to the immediate future with anything like hope. I have depended heavily on school and public libraries in my own life, and have been taking my children to libraries since they could hold a book. For my youngest son, it was a lifeline to books. He read late and we kept his interest in stories alive through borrowing countless audiobooks until he became a confident reader. I could never have afforded the variety and number of audiobooks he needed during those years.
So I'll be supporting my local library this Saturday like so many other authors. And trying not to lose hope.
But today, I'm going to be positive. A new book is always a fresh start. It's another story out there which I hope lots of young readers will enjoy and I intend to celebrate. It's a celebration of a year of hard work researching, writing and editing by me, and of careful editing, copyediting and wonderful cover design from Oxford University Press. May there be many more such celebrations. Party time!

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Researching my Home City by Marie-Louise Jensen

Researching Bath in the eighteenth century has proved to be a real adventure. You think you know your own city. I certainly thought I knew mine. After all, I've been round all the museums many times. I've done the walks and the bus tours. I've shown visitors around. But when I started to research a specific time period, I realised that my knowledge was at best superficial and at worst completely wrong.
The surprises began to mount up. For example, I didn't know that the gracious Georgian city I'm lucky enough to live in, and that so many tourists visit, was built mainly after the really fashionable period of its history was over.
The Bath the the rich aristocracy flocked to 'the better to enjoy each other's company and win one another's money as they had done in London in the winter', was a tiny, dirty, cramped medieval city, still entirely enclosed by its city walls. The Bath that Beau Nash reigned over as uncrowned king didn't even get a dedicated ballroom for some twelve years. Refuse was piled high in the streets, dogs ran everywhere, the lighting was haphazard and the sedan chairmen robbed, cheated and persecuted their wealthy passengers.
Now doesn't that sound like a much more promising basis for a story than a sedate promenade on clean, new streets and sober and respectable balls? There is certainly far more scope for danger and adventure.
I've finally bothered to read the little notice on a scrappy piece of stonework in Saw Close, and found out that it's a fragment of the old city walls; one of only two remaining. And looking on maps of the old city really brings home just how tiny it was before fame and fortune brought about the explosive late-Georgian expansion.
The image of all those reputedly badly-behaved, obsessive gambling, gossiping and pleasure seeking nobles all crammed into such a small space is a vivid one. And I'm not sure I'll ever view Bath in the same way again.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Taking a Break by Marie-Louise Jensen

I've just come back from seven weeks abroad. I'm very privilleged to be able to go away like this most summers - my work is flexible and my children (until yesterday) out of school. And I have family to go and stay with in Denmark.
It's always interesting to discover how much a change of scene facilitates my writing. I've been taking a break, not from my work (why would I want to do that?) but from my everyday life. From taxiing my boys to endless things and running the house and trying to tame the jungle that should be a garden. Tax returns and other unappetising paperwork. When the busy routine of all this falls away and I can concentrate, the writing flows.
I'm sure the outdoor workspace helped too. And the peace and quiet of the place. The fact that my sons played golf every day. And the lack of internet too, of course. That's certainly a factor.
I wrote fourteen chapters in six weeks - unthinkable at home. And although I'm sure I'll need to do plenty of rewriting, it's still a great feeling to have made so much progress. Now I just need to find the time to keep the momentum going, even if it's slower.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

My Five Favourite Teen Romances by Marie-Louise Jensen

I've always loved a good romance - or at least I have since I was about twelve or thirteen years old. The best romances, I've always thought, are the ones where you just long for the couple to be able to get together, to be together, despite all the odds stacked against them, despite misunderstandings and barriers.
The other thing that's important in a really good love story is that it's not just about the relationship- I feel more drawn in and engaged if there's a full and satisfying storyline beside the romance.
I mainly read historical fiction, so the following selection will be biased in that direction, but I'll read a romance in any genre. Firstly three recent stories I've loved:
Ann Turnbull's No Shame No Fear and the sequel Forged in the Fire. These two novels follow the fortunes of Quaker teenager Susanna in a time when her people were harshly persecuted in the 1600s. These two are an engaging and captivating read, with just the right mix of adventure, action, heartbreak and young love. Wonderful! I also found the Quaker world fascinating.
Another beautifully written love story is Sally Gardner's I, Coriander. This was another teen novel that swept me off my feet and kept me reading until the early hours. Here is a handsome prince in a fairy-tale world that runs alongside the real historical setting of Oliver Cromwell's drab and Puritan England. Coriander falls in love with him, but they don't inhabit the same world - until he makes the transition in the most unexpected way, sending a shiver of sheer delight through the reader. This is a exquisitely constructed love story.
Thirdly (to turn contemporary) is Sarah Dessen's The Truth about Forever. An American high school romance, this is far out of my usual field of interest, but I was captivated by this slow-moving, almost sensual love story. I thought it was beauifully structured and the device of the truth game that brings the two characters together was genius. By far my favourite Sarah Dessen novel.
For my last two choices, I shall turn to the stories that beguiled my own teen years. Firstly Pride and Prejudice. I know, I know, everyone quotes this one, but I discovered it at fourteen and simply adored it. Though it should really not have much to say to modern teenagers, who no longer have love and marriage at the centre of their lives and ambitions, Jane Austen nevertheless taps into such timeless truths and creates such lovable and memorable characters, that the books continue to captivate readers.
Having read my way through Jane Austen, and hungry for more, at fourteen fifteen years old, I discovered Georgette Heyer. I feel her books have dated far more than Austen's, although they are written much more recently, but if you can see past the changed meanings of many words, they are still bubbly, witty and delighful love stories. Don't expect any serious issues or deep meaningful engagement here. Think light, frothy but beautifully crafted entertainment. Try These Old Shades, my enduring favourite of Heyer's novels.

Monday, 7 June 2010

More Research by Marie-Louise Jensen

I love researching a new era. It's one of my favourite things about writing historical fiction. I'm not a history expert and my knowledge of history is patchy and based largely on my fiction reading. So I have to do a great deal of research.
If I'm researching British history, my first port of call is the library. And once I've staggered home with more books than I could sensibly carry (or that I can realistically read in the three week loan period) I confess, I often feel pretty daunted. But then once I get two or three book into the era, I'm usually captivated, fascinated and engaged. And inspired too - and for me this is the very best thing about historical writing: the historical details themselves often provide inspiration for all sorts of story details.
Admittedly they occasionally block what I thought was a good plot idea as well, because some things turn out to be quite different to how I'd imagined them. But the research definitely gives more than it takes.
A tip for anyone about to start researching an era, especially of you're writing for young people: include a selection of children's history books as well as weighty adult tomes. They are so much more accessible and give you the big picture very quickly and easily. And they often include child-friendly details omitted from the scholarly tomes that often become bogged down in the political details of the times.
I've been amused this time around, by the fact that each time I've opened a new (adult) history book on the Georgian section, I've found exactly the same piece of writing, even though the books have different publishers. Someone's obviously done well for themselves, selling the same text to a number of publishers. They didn't even bother to tweak it....

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Rewriting by Marie-Louise Jensen

I'm rewriting a manuscript at the moment. It's taking a very long time. Perhaps because I wrote the second half of the book quite quickly, I seem to want to make endless changes on every single page - over and above what's been requested by my editor. The story is also several thousand words too long. So the word count button is in constant use. Great - it's down three thousand words! Oh no, it's back up again - how did that happen?
How is it that changes nearly always add words rather than removing them? A bit like the sock moster in reverse: no matter how careful you are, more come out of the wash than went in.
My mini computer goes everywhere with me at the moment. It makes its appearance in cafes, on the bus, in waiting rooms, and very frequently in the car while I'm waiting for my sons. They are banned from all activities over 2.5 hours, which is how long my battery can last. But no matter how long I spend, I can't seem to get to the end of the manuscript.
My consolation is that I really feel the writing and the story are improving. That makes it all long as I still think so when I read it through afterwards.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Brain Overload by Marie-Louise Jensen

I'm between books at the moment. not in the sense that I've finished one book and haven't started the next yet. Oh no. It's much more complicated than that.
First there's the Viking book I've written for publication in January 2011: Sigrun's Secret. That's been to my editor and I'm working my way steadily through the rewrites. It's not difficult, but it takes a lot of brain space.
Secondly there's the book I've written with a friend and colleague, which also needs rewriting. We're not actively working on it right now, but I keep having ideas at inconvenient moments, like the middle of the night.
Thirdly there's the book I started writing in February, but have now put aside to work on at a later date. I've tried very hard to put it out of my mind too, but the main character is Katla, named after the sister volcano to the one that's currently erupting in Iceland. And the story was going to be about a devastating eruption. So the news is rather making it hard to leave.
Then there's the story I've agreed with my publishers (the lovely OUP) that I'll write next. I need to get researching and planning on that one very soon, and had a plot idea whilst ironing yesterday.
So perhaps it's not surprising that I feel like on of those very slow computers that has so many background programs running that when you ask it to perform an every-day task, it responds very s-l-o-w-l-y.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

A Book Review by Marie-Louise Jensen

I've struggled tothink of anything to post about today. I've written another rant about bleak children's books that is more likely to annoy people than anything else, so I've merely filed it.

My own writing is in a state of uncertainty as I may be about to put a book aside that I've been working on to start a completely different one, but I don't know yet. And I'm busy with rewrites on a previous manuscript, but rewrites are really not interesting to anyone but the author.

So instead I'm going to review a book I really enjoyed a while back, which doesn't seem to me to be getting the attention it deserves in the UK.

I review a number of books a year for Write Away and get interesting and varied reads. Some of these are eagerly awaited (the latest Mary Hooper, Sally Gardner or Ann Turnbull for example) and others are books I might not otherwise have come across.

My favourite unexpected read of last year was a debut novel called The Agency: A Spy in the House, by Canadian author Y.S. Lee.

Set in murky Victorian London, this is the first of a series. The main character, Mary, was rescued from the gallows at a tender age by a group of unorthodox women who run a charity school. When Mary reaches her teen years, she is recruited to The Agency, a secret organisation which offers women of enterprise and courage a chance to do more than repressive Victorian society usually offers them: spying for a detective agency.

I thought this was a wonderfully subversive premise and it grabbed my attention at once. The adventure that followed didn't disappoint. Mary was a strong and engaging heroine, the writing was great and there was a charming romance, including an unexpected and amusing scene in - believe it or not - a wardrobe. There was also the added interest of Mary's dual heritage and her search for her mysterious father. The story was set up nicely for the sequel which will follow later this year: The Body at the Tower. I'm looking forward to it.

If you enjoy historical adventures, or know any teen girls who do, you should definitely give this one a try.

Monday, 22 February 2010

The Opening Chapter by Marie-Louise Jensen

I love beginning a new novel. Partly because I love that first chapter. By the time I get to write it down, I've usually been shaping it in my head for months and months and I know exactly how I want it to be. So the writing process is usually satisfyingly quick. Even if it does include getting up at dawn the following day to make changes that have come into my head in the night.
But I also love the first chapter because it's such a moment of possibilities. It's the time when the story is in my head in a full colour, digital, high definition, 4D version. I see all its potential and, as yet, none of the pitfalls and problems that will inevitably surface and leave me sitting staring in frustration at the computer screen. At this point I can still tell myself it's going to be better than anything I've written so far.
Once I'm ten chapters in, I will, of course, still be enjoying myself. I'll be thoroughly involved in the story. But I'll have red notes scattered throughout the manuscript, reminding me to 'rewrite this bit' or 'make motivation stronger' and so on at some later stage. A slight sense of dissatisfaction will have crept in. Once again, I won't have fully succeeded in tranfering my vision to paper (or screen) in the way I first saw it. Instead of 21st century graphics, my dread is it may end up looking like one of those early colour films where it looked like they'd still filmed in black and white and then splashed the colour on afterwards, all blurry round the edgs.
This is the sixth manuscript I've worked on (two are still works in progress) so I'm getting familiar with the mental and emotional process of my writing. I'm in the Viking era for the third time, but this time it's a very different sort of main character to any I've worked with before. She's difficult, willful and rebellious, and she has a tragedy ahead of her.
At the moment, just two-and-a-half chapters into the story, I still see it all as I want it. So I'm still very excited and happy, cocooned in the belief that THIS time...

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Kids Lit Quiz Final by Marie-Louise Jensen

Apologies for a second post on this topic, but I’d written this before I saw Lucy’s piece. And it was my first Kid’s Lit Quiz event, so I wanted to give my impressions.

I was one of the many authors privileged to attend the final at Oxford town hall yesterday, to watch the final 15 teams battle it out for a place at the Edinburgh world final on the 14th of August.

The rounds of questions were very varied, ranging from mythology to super heroes, to contemporary fiction and back to classics. The teams guessed books from opening lines, pinpointed authors from details about their lives and identified characters from ancient Greek tales. Their knowledge was impressive and what was even more awesome was the speed at which they buzzed and gave their answers – often before my brain had even taken in what the question was. It was wonderful to see such a hall full of knowledgeable, well-read and quick thinking 10-13 year olds.

Each school had been allocated two authors from those present and had been in communication with us with email author questionnaires beforehand. It was exciting to cheer for the school I’d been in touch with (City of London School for Girls in my case) and even more exciting to see them come second and win a place representing England at the final.

The event was brilliantly organised and run by a dedicated team, led by Jacky Atkinson, and we were all treated to tea, rolls and cakes afterwards too –  a chance to meet children, librarians, authors and supporters. All in all, a wonderful afternoon, with a real buzz (forgive the pun) around children’s literature. Congratulations to all the competitors and the organisers.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Researching Vikings by Marie-Louise Jensen

I think most books need research of some kind. Locations, issues, names – all sorts of things that might seem to flow quite naturally when you’re reading the story, but that probably took the author many painstaking hours of work to give that naturalness. And if they haven’t been done carefully, might jar with a knowing reader.

Personally, I find I need to do a great deal of research. I need to bring the historical period alive in my own mind before I write about it. Otherwise how can I expect my readers to believe in it?
I have a Viking book coming out in February 2010 which took a great deal of time, money and effort to research. I’ve been to Iceland twice to visit locations, museums, digs and reconstructions. We camped around Iceland for six weeks, visiting almost every Viking site there is up there. Most were awesome. The reconstruction of Erik the Red’s longhouse, for instance. You are greeted individually by Icelanders in full Viking dress, willing to tell you the saga of Erik the Red and his bloodthirsty feuds and daring exploration, shown Viking replica artefacts, allowed to dress up, and you leave feeling you have come a huge step closer to understanding Viking life.

Another amazing experience was the Exhibition of Settlement at Reykjavik, where the curator took the time and trouble to explain all kinds of detail of Viking life to me and my family – and I picked up such delightful details as the eating of sheep’s brains in the winter to ward off scurvy – wonderful!

In the tourist centres I used reference books to look up flora and their healing properties, and made copious notes. We took an hour to ride the famous Icelandic horses. Spent whole days bird watching. And the wonderful summer medieval market at Gazir outside Akuyeri was invaluable.

Almost most important of all was the landscapes. I soaked them up for six long sun-drenched weeks. At times the weather was bitterly cold, but it was almost invariably beautiful. I came home and threw away the chapters I’d written before I visited the country and started again, realising I now had a far better understanding of the sights, sounds, smells and atmosphere of this wonderful land.

Of course it’s disappointing when one of the first reviews of the book (on refers to the Greenland setting (It was a lovely review apart from that *minor* detail) but I do hope, as I always hope, that for many readers I’ve captured a little of the place and time and brought it to life.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Books for Everyone by Marie-Louise Jensen

I never cease to be amazed by how different people’s reading tastes are. Put a random group of people in a room and give them a list of books to read. Then ask them to put them in order of how much they enjoyed them. You’re very unlikely to get any two with the same list.
Some love romance, others find it boring or embarrassing. Many people love a good weep, others hate it. Some like to be challenged, to find a book difficult to read and to be made to think about issues, morals and difficult choices. Others want to escape into a fluffy, happy book world to escape reality. Others like something in between or a variety.
I know readers who think all fantasy is stupid. I myself struggle with books that have a school setting. Historical fiction is another divide. It’s some people’s passion and total, unalleviated boredom for others.
The difference in reactions to books is not just a male-female divide either, of course. It’s far more complex than that. Yes, there are girl-books and boy-books on the market. Once you get beyond the 9-12 age bracket, almost all books are gender targeted. And we all know that while many girls will read ‘boy’ books, it’s far harder to get boys to read girl books. But you won’t get a group of girls or a group of boys who like all the same books either. My two sons like completely different authors, and have completely different personalities. They only one they can agree on is Horowitz - but even then not on which of his books are best.
The more I think about it the more I think the diversity in books and reading tastes is to be welcomed and embraced. Something for everyone, reflecting our individuality and celebrating our differences.
I don’t envy the Carnegie judges their decision due to be announced tomorrow. How do a panel of diverse judges manage to agree on a choice of 'best' book they are not the target audience for? Rather them than me.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Book Launch Season by Marie-Louise Jensen

There has been a children’s book launch frenzy in Bath in the first half of this year. Bath has become quite a centre for children’s writers – partly, though not exclusively, because of the Writing for Young People MA at the Bath Spa University.
I kicked off the string of launches myself with my second teen novel The Lady in the Tower, which was published by OUP on the 1st of January. There was a party kindly hosted by the Oldfield Park Bookshop and later in the month, an event in Waterstone’s. Both were great fun and it was lovely to see so many friends as well as some people I hadn’t met before.
Rachel Ward then launched her debut teen novel Numbers at Bath Waterstone’s in January, drawing a big crowd of supporters. Then there was a bit of a break, before Steve Voake launched his new fantasy adventure Blood Hunters in April. Sadly, I didn’t make that one, due to a clash with my taxi duties for my sons, but we read the book, which my fourteen-year-old describes as ‘awesome’.
Julia Green followed with the launch of her Breathing Underwater at Mr B’s Emporium of Delights. A wonderful, crowded event, everyone crammed into both floors of the shop for a party, a reading and a signing. I’m half way through Breathing Underwater and urge everyone to read it. It’s a beautifully-written, haunting and mysterious tale of grieving and growing up.
Just this week, Lucy Christopher launched her debut teen novel Stolen, at Bath Waterstone’s. Again, a big, lively crowd, lots of excitement and a fun, sparkling event. The book looks great too, though I’ve not had chance to read more than a few pages yet.
In two weeks, Sarah Singleton is signing copies of her new book The Poison Garden in Bath, which I’m looking forward to as I’m a fan of her previous books.
Is that all for 2009, or are there more books to come? I wait with bated breath, because I’ve started to depend on a party a month. I love my own launches, but other people’s are so much more relaxing.
It seems to me that Bath is the place to be. It’s all happening here for kids’ books. Oh, and if I’ve missed anyone out it’s because they forgot to invite me – they’ll know better next year. :-)

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

On Hope - by Marie-Louise Jensen

I think hope is a necessary ingredient of a children’s book. It’s a personal opinion, not shared by everyone.
My own taste in reading runs to happy endings. There are enough miserable things going on in real life, as far as I’m concerned, for me to look for more between the covers of a book. I like to know that however bad things get during a story, and it’s fine if they are very bad in the middle, and you can’t see a way out, they are all going to turn out all right in the end. That’s why I love reading children’s books and why I love writing them. Because it can be seen as soft or unrealistic to have happy endings in adult books. But you can get away with it for kids. Everything can be wonderfully happily resolved without your readers muttering ‘unconvincing’.
But my feeling is that children’s books are getting darker and darker and I’m no longer feeling secure when I launch myself into a new book. The cover and the blurb certainly don't always warn you. It reminds me of why I stopped reading adult books – because you don’t quite know what sort of horrors lurk between the pages and how much it’s going to haunt you afterwards.
When I studied holocaust literature at university, many moons ago, I read a piece by Jean Amery describing the after-effects of torture. He says it takes away your trust in the world, utterly and completely, and it can never be restored. There is no security ever again.
I sometimes feel concerned that reading really bleak books where everything ends miserably is (on a very tiny scale, of course) a bit like torture. You’ve been shown and drawn into a vision of unbearable misery, you’ve been haunted by dark happenings. They can stay with you. I myself have a number of images from children’s books I’ve read over the past couple of years that haunt my conscious mind with things I would infinitely prefer not to have there.
And yet we expose our kids happily to such books. We give them prizes that never seem to go to happy books, funny books, and books for little children. They become best-sellers and get put on reading lists as a result.
I know I’m over-sensitive. But I can’t help wondering if we need to give our children more security in an increasingly violent world, and not expose them to some of the very worst of human nature in their reading. I'm sure many, many people will disagree with this. But rightly or wrongly, it's what I feel.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Writing Endings – by Marie-Louise Jensen

I don’t know what it is about writing a novel, but it seems to go through a sort of time warp. There’s the tremendous excitement of that first chapter. I always spend ages planning it out in my mind, deciding just how I want it to be. That usually seems to write itself when I finally sit down to it. But then begins the long, slow and seemingly endless task of working out and writing down the whole story. It’s not that I don’t love doing it, because I do. But when I’m in the middle of it, it sometimes feels far too great a task to complete.
There are despondent spells when it all feels difficult and it’s not going well. That’s the long part of the time warp, when time speeds up around me and the novel seems to slow down. My characters won’t always behave and the plot needs adjusting. Then there are spells where everything’s flowing beautifully and I just know it’ll all be right eventually. Those chapters buoy me up and keep me going.
But it’s towards the end of the story that it develops a momentum of its own. Probably because I’ve spent so many months imagining how it will end and planning out the final sequence of events. But suddenly the story starts to run, then race then fly towards its conclusion and it’s hugely exhilarating. That’s when I know we’ve entered the good part of the time warp and before I know it I’ll be flying over the finish line in breathless haste.
But just in case I get too uplifted, there are always the rewrites….

Monday, 2 February 2009

The Value of Author Events by Marie-Louise Jensen

I recently did a school visit to a delightful secondary school in Bristol, where the children were engaged, interested and well-behaved. They listened to my talk, asked questions, became enthusiastic as we began to talk about books by other contemporary authors and produced some great writing in a creative writing exercise afterwards.
It was all very enjoyable and the time flew by. Several children were interested enough to buy my books, which was also nice. :-)
I was very perturbed, however, to hear from the member of staff who arranged the event that she’s been asked to prove that these visits are of quantifiable benefit to the children in the school, or the funding for them won’t be continued.
Now, I can quite see that scientists may be able to prove that a certain drug can be used to treat an illness (after expensive trials, of course). But I’m not aware that any one educational method has ever been proven to be better than any other. So how do you prove the value of author visits? (I’m not aware that the school were offering money for a research project on the subject…)
The success of education in general, and perhaps English more than any other subject, is dependent on so many factors. Most subjects go beyond the classroom and are affected by home environment, parental expectation, and socio-economic factors. With all these influences, it makes it very difficult to accurately assess the impact of any individual classroom method over another.
I know that author events have had a huge impact on my own children’s reading. Thank you and bless you Francesca Simon for getting my youngest son interested in books! And gratitude also to Anthony Horowitz and Michelle Paver for extending his reading beyond Horrid Henry. I saw the effect of those events on his reading and his English over a two year period. But would I be able to prove that’s what made the difference? I wouldn’t know where to start.