Tag Archives: Amanda Craig

How dark?

When Kevin Brooks won the Carnegie Medal this week, war broke out over how dark you can have your children’s books. Kevin’s The Bunker Diary is apparently very dark indeed (and I think that’s why I chose not to read it), and some people love it and others don’t, at all.

I seem to be in agreement with Amanda Craig in The Independent, who prefers her Carnegie winners to be for younger readers, and she wants the books to have hope. Not necessarily a happy ending, but there needs to be some reward for all that gloom. But then there are many who actively like dismal realism, and say that children can take it.

I agree with the last statement. Children don’t need protecting from gritty and realistic literature. Whatever they encounter in their own lives, they will welcome in fiction. You want to read about people like yourself. But I suspect that a little bit of something positive would be welcome. Not an unrealistic sugary ending, but something. Something you could add to your own life, even when you have no power.

But we are all different, which is why Kevin was awarded the Carnegie Medal, and why so many feel it was the right thing. I’m happy for him (although if this was fiction, I suppose for Kevin never to win would be suitably dark realism) and I’m convinced it’s an excellent book. Just not a happy one.

I’m a little surprised at Amanda’s outspokenness, but as one of our leading critics she can get away with it. The press have been more than keen this week for articles on the subject. I believe there is more coming. It’s good that children’s literature can stir up feelings.

Can we afford experts?

The big shock in the children’s books world this week was the sacking of Amanda Craig as the children’s books reviewer in the Times.

Amanda has long been a beacon in the business of children’s reading, which is hardly surprising for someone who discovered Harry Potter (in a review sort of way). She doesn’t just recommend the obvious books, but has had the taste to like unknown books by unknown authors, and her status as reviewer for the Times has made all the difference for those getting a mention in her all too tiny portion of the paper.

But the Times obviously want to save on money, and someone seems to think that ‘anyone can do it.’ After all, it’s only children’s books. Not hard, and not important.

I’m not writing this because I believe Amanda has any special rights to this job. I’m merely commenting on the way she was ‘replaced.’ Will readers trust reviews in the paper now? Will they notice? Not being a Times customer, I never read Amanda’s column, but I knew of her long before I started blogging.

As long as she has that reputation, I reckon Amanda can continue reading and reviewing children’s fiction. She might have to join the ranks of unpaid bloggers, but I’m guessing she will get the readership her reviews deserve.

Or, one of the other serious papers could snap her up. If there is one that still has funds for children’s books.

Bookwitch bites #102

It’s not all Harry Potter and J K Rowling in the children’s books world. This week I’ve come across some interesting articles on authors and books. One is by Matt Haig, where he spills the beans on what an author’s life can be like. (They’re not all the same, it seems.)

Advances vary a great deal, even between books for one author. Think about what Matt says, and consider how easy it would be to live like that. And if you happen to be a chicken, for goodness’ sake don’t go to Nando’s!

Amanda Craig has been around a long time and knows an awful lot about children’s books. This week she put a talk she’d done on her blog, and I have to join the line of people who have said what a great piece it is. It is a great piece. I wish I’d written it.

And if I was Amanda’s postman I’d either leave or ask for more pay. I bet he or she is not so keen on The Third Golden Age of Children’s Literature. One hundred books a week! It takes me a few months.

Whenever I threaten to become too starry eyed when meeting authors in person, I give myself a talking to, and tell myself that they are quite normal people, and you don’t exactly see their publicists going crazy. (It depends.)

This week J K Rowling did an event in Bath, and at least two people I know were there to see – and hear – her. One author, and one publicist, and both appear to have gone all soft-kneed and fan-like in her presence.

I’m glad. I don’t want to be alone in this admiration business. I am working hard at not kissing your feet. (Please wash them, just in case, though.)

But it’s good that the magic is still there, and isn’t it great that children’s literature can have the Rowling effect? Even if the gold bars for some are smaller than for others.

(Disappointed to discover that – yet again – this week’s Guardian Review was ‘children’s book review free.’ I can understand what Amanda means regarding cramming those 100 weekly books into a few hundred words, less than weekly. We need a spell, Harry!)

Six to nine, please

Last week Amanda Craig pleaded with author friends to write fewer books for teens and more for six to nine-year-olds. She would also prefer them to be stand-alones.

I had sort of assumed the reason I see more teen books than younger ones is that I ask for older books more often, and I do so because deep down I am trying to please myself. It is perfectly feasible for adults to enjoy books intended for 6 to 9, but it’s rarer. I find quite a few good ones, but would still not pick them for pleasure reading.

Except, Amanda went on to say she wanted more Eva Ibbotson style books, and I somehow think of those as a little older. My own former six-year-olds would not have coped with an Ibbotson novel. Although, I could have read to them from her books.

Anyway, maybe there really are fewer young books being published. It would make sense. We get an excess of vampires because they are considered big business. I expect we have a glut of YA novels for the same reason.

My automatic reaction to Amanda’s plea was to feel that they can read books from the past. As with so many other things in life, you can recycle books. By that I mean that what a six-year-old read five or 15 or 50 years ago, can be read by a new six-year-old today. Almost. The books from when I was that age might be more suited to slightly older children today, because we were so much ‘more mature.’

It’s obvious that a reviewer needs new material to review. And bookshops might like fresh books, but a book sold is a book sold, whatever age. The wonderful thing about six-year-olds is that we get new ones every year. So they can (be made to) read what older generations read before them.

Lucy Boston, The Children of Green Knowe

I’d not really stopped to consider this before. I’ve felt uncomfortable with reading and reviewing mainly older books, but telling myself since I do this for me, I have to enjoy what I read. But once I’d got this far, I felt happier, because if I’m not ignoring new books because they haven’t been written, I can actually concentrate on catching up with classics for younger ages. There is much that I never got round to before.

Having found the first Green Knowe book in the mobile library about ten years ago I was keen to read the rest. Couldn’t find them anywhere. More recently I saw that someone was re-issuing them and asked the publisher, but got no reply. They’d be just right now, wouldn’t they? Children. History. Fantasy.

But Amanda is mostly right. Why ignore some age groups? And stand-alones are always good.

Not the diamonds! Please, not the diamonds…

I’m not a betting witch, but I’d still be willing to bet that Amanda Craig, Nicolette Jones and Nicholas Tucker don’t get review copies sent out with a teaspoonful of plastic jewels wrapped up (very prettily, I admit) with the book. I’m guessing they’re meant to put me – us – into such a good mood that not only will I read the diamond-encrusted book, but I will love it.

(As it is, I am still fuming over having to crawl around on the floor, finding the pretty, but plastic, jewels after they fell out of the tissue paper parcel. I wasn’t taking care, unwrapping it. How could I have guessed I had sunk low enough to be on the diamond/tissue paper packaging list?)

It doesn’t help that the accompanying press release (press, hah!) mentions the publicity department has a pile of books for bloggers only. So exclusive. Not.

Frequently I find that the round robin emails from PR departments assume bloggers need to be herded like children; told what’s expected in return for review copies, and occasionally accompanied by jolly cries about competitions and films and special blogger author meetings.

Back in the infancy of Bookwitch, there must have been relatively few bloggers on the publishers’ mailing lists. I recall being treated like a real person, put in the same room as the formidable reviewers I mentioned earlier. I was treated like the adult I unquestionably am.

(Please take no notice that I am having a toddler tantrum right now.)

I don’t know for certain, but I suspect the PR departments now have a press list, and they have a bloggers list. I am on the latter, because undeniably I write – and review on – a blog.

But I am actually hurt to suddenly find myself demoted to teen fandom, after years of reasonably professional contact with the fantastic and hard working publicists I have come to know. Those who have never met me can be forgiven for believing I am a starstruck twenty-something.

I don’t feel I belong in the group of people guesstimated to be twenty years old and with a disproportionate fondness for vampire/dystopian romances. Nor do I harbour too many fan style crushes on their authors. A second class type of reviewer is being created. Hopefully with all the best intentions, but still. It’s a nice little hobby.

Clearly I need a new label. Blogger has become a derogative term. Suggestions, please? At this rate I’d rather be a housewife.

My hero’s hero

Meg Rosoff and K M Peyton

There was no way I couldn’t go. It’s the most fascinating thing to find that your favourite author has a favourite author. Well, no. What I mean is finding that they behave just as giddily as the rest of us when they finally make contact with the person they admire.

When I first heard Meg Rosoff wax very lyrically about K M Peyton, my reaction was ‘who?’, but I seem to be alone in that. As I said the other day, when you’re my age you simply know everything there is to know about Kathleen Peyton and her horse books and her books on many other topics. They are your childhood. And now that I’ve read two of them (only another 70 or something to go!) I know that they would have been.

K M Peyton

So, when Meg not only met Kathleen, but rashly decided to invite her to her house, and then to ask many of her own admirers to witness this; how could I not want to go? Hence my trip south yesterday, for a day of many literary encounters, starting with Sally Gardner (who only refrained from meeting her friend Meg’s hero because she and I seem to be the only two people in the world not to have grown up with Flambards and the rest).

Flowers for K M Peyton

The 'staff'

Kate Agnew, David Fickling and Annie Eaton

Blinis

Kathleen is so refreshingly different that she doesn’t even know what a blogger is, and why should she? She’s very brave, because she must have known she was in for lots of people flinging themselves at her, prostrating themselves at her feet and generally doing the ‘Beatles scream.’

The kitchen where Bookwitch was conceived is no more, and much as I mourn its passing, I have to say that the replacement facilitated Meg’s inviting quite so many KMP fans, and we were only in danger of expiring from the heat (London was wet, but very warm) as we munched our way through some of the best canapés I’ve come across in a long time, served by some unusually pleasant helpers. Meg had sensibly got the help of super efficient Corinne Gotch and it all worked like clockwork. (Except possibly for their debate as to who was going to open the door for me when I arrived… I heard that!)

I knew the guest list was full of lovely people, authors, publishers, agents, publicists, bookshop people and writers-about-children’s-books. And then there was me.

Meg climbed up on a chair and did her fan speech, starting with saying how surprised she’d been when she found Kathleen was still alive. And without climbing onto anything, Kathleen countered with thanks for her ‘sending off’, which she much preferred to a launch. At least this recognised things achieved, rather than making hopeful demands for things to come. She has written her last book, for which Meg was grateful, but only because there are so many still to read (and I think she mentioned the time she herself takes over writing her own books, which are slightly fewer than 70). Kathleen was very amusing in her thank you speech, remembering a young Terry Pratchett, who she had suspected might do well…

Listening to K M Peyton

David Fickling, Geraldine Brennan, Ian Beck and Lucy Coats

'Mr Rosoff'

Blue

Catherine Clarke and Graham Marks

Among the fans were Tabitha Suzuma (who used to write long letters to her favourite author, receiving long replies back), Keren David and Lucy Coats. Ian Beck was there, seemingly taking photographs with his chequebook, and I recognised Graham Marks, as I do every time, before I have to work out who he is, and that David Fickling was there. I queried why – being a boy – he had turned up and was informed he edits Kathleen’s books. Of course he does. Silly me. And Mrs F recommended her favourite K M Peyton book.

Speaking of books, there were some on display and we were allowed to take one home with us! So, now I have my own – signed – copy of Flambards (seeing as how I’ve been told I must read it.)

Blue, Meg’s lurcher, kept us company all evening. I’m surprised any dog would stay sane and quiet in such a human din. And the Eck made an appearance. He was slightly bigger than I had visualised, but otherwise just as I thought he’d be.

And as the party was at its best, the bookwitch slunk out the door to catch that famous 21.40 back home. The walk to the station was never six minutes (who dreamt that up??), but the 15 minutes there took me 20 on the return. And it was downhill.

Cow-hood, here I come!

(Apologies for any untruths told. I have discovered – via Wikipedia – that there were actually three K M Peyton books in translation before I was past the horse book stage. The next thing I know will be finding that I actually read them.)

Tabitha Suzuma

Eck

Thanking K M Peyton

Taxi confessionals and intertextuality

The way to catch Amanda Craig is to go to one of her events where she can’t just do a runner. She was in Manchester yesterday, with Michèle Roberts, talking about their most recent books. They were already there when I arrived, and I was virtually first, so that’s keen. I think I overheard them discuss those perennially important subjects, e-readers and schools. The place was respectably full, given it was the middle of the day. The audience was predominantly ladies (4 men at the last count).

Amanda Craig

It was weird, because I sort of ‘know’ Amanda from facebook, whereas I was sure I didn’t know Michèle at all, but she looked familiar in that way some people do.

Amanda – who has the most magnificent hair! – kicked off on the strength of her name coming first in the alphabet, and she read us the preface to Hearts and Minds, after describing how she began this novel which took her seven years to write. Basically she wanted a story about people who are from somewhere other than Britain, so she researched everybody from au pairs and taxi drivers to prostitutes.

Michèle Roberts

Michèle enjoys short stories, and reads one a day, which gives her time to think about them afterwards. She was once shortlisted for the Bad Sex Award, which surprised her but didn’t stop her. The latest book is Mud: Stories of Sex and Love, and she read us a bit, which I think is where the intertextuality came in. Inspired by Boswell and Johnson, she can see no reason why men are allowed to walk cities at night, and women can’t do the same. It’s the difference between ‘flaneur’ and ‘street walker’ which annoys her.  ‘It won’t do’!

She is thinking of doing an ‘art installation’ in the form of a taxi where you confess during your taxi journey, having been inspired by the taxi drivers of Norwich who used her to confess while driving her to the station.

Amanda is currently writing a North and South kind of novel, and is very aware of Mrs Gaskell while in Manchester. She recalled an early visit, when the city was dark and dirty, and I suspect she and I must have visited round about the same time. We also seem to share some witchy instincts, with her planning all sorts of things for her novels, which then happen in real life.

They both had plenty of books to sign, but I think Michèle was the only one faced with a carrier bag full of books. And I do wish I knew how authors manage the beautifully draped beautiful scarf bit. Michèle did it. Amanda didn’t need to, with that hair.

Mythical witch

Aarghh..! The tables have been turned. I really, really don’t like answering questions. Meg Rosoff tried interviewing me last October and it was awful. And now Lucy Coats has had a go, too. (But I will have a cream meringue, thank you. And Earl Grey with that would be nice.)

Lucy is very nice. Very kind. I think it may have been lunch rather than tea we bonded over. It was certainly something we ate. She’s the kind of woman who opens her arms and gives even strange witches a hug. Bet she soon realised she’d been a bit hasty, but by then it was too late.

It’s obvious. Lucy decided to do a questionnaire/survey/interview thingy to see how myths have influenced people and what they think about the importance of myths. She asked the great and the good, starting with Caroline Lawrence, and following swiftly with Mary Hoffman. Then Amanda Craig, Michelle Paver, Adèle Geras and Philip Womack. The natural name to follow these people is the Bookwitch. I mean, who else is there?

The Word document with Lucy’s questions sat on my desktop for a Very Long Time. (On top of Mark Harmon’s left eyebrow, should anyone be interested.) I opened it up every now and then and looked at it, before closing it again. Hopeless. Me. It. Finding answers to very clever questions. ‘Have to tell her I can’t do it,’ I whispered to myself, repeatedly.

When Lucy published Caroline’s profile I read through it, looking for hints of what to say and how to say it. Hah.

In the end I went for irreverent, tongue-in-cheek answers that have very little to do with myths, let alone Greek ones. I have let the side down, and I’m sorry. Let’s hope it picks up next week, with a real person again.