Tag Archives: Gillian Cross

The Guardian 2013 longlist

Might this list change lives, I wonder?

At first I thought there’s not much you can say about a longlist, even though I usually do when the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize lists are published. I toyed with the idea of saying nothing, but then I remembered that fateful list nine years ago. Nine years!

This older reader saw a book called How I Live Now mentioned and just knew she had to read it. (She’s a witch. That’s probably how she knew this.) The book wasn’t even out yet, so had to be ordered and waited for. Not only was it the best book she’d read, but it changed her life.

So perhaps one of the books on this year’s list will have that effect on someone, somewhere?

Of the eight, I have read three and a half. All would be worthy winners. The half, too. I can only assume the remaining four are pretty good as well. They could all be life-changers, and not necessarily for the authors.

Sally Gardner, Maggot Moon

David Almond, Gillian Cross, Sally Gardner, John Green and Rebecca Stead have already done well. And there’s no reason they shouldn’t go on and do even more well. Katherine Rundell, William Sutcliffe and Lydia Syson are new to me, but so was Meg Rosoff that time. She turned out all right, didn’t she?

I hope someone finds the reading passion of their life in amongst these books.

And then there’s the competition for critics aged 17 and under to write a review of  one of the books. In the nine years since my moment of discovery I have been acquainted with two such young winners. I hope winning changed something for them too.

You just never know what will be waiting round the corner. It could be a literary longlist.

(I seem to recall people expect me to predict. OK, the shortlist – because that’s all the predicting you get at this point – will be Gillian Cross, Sally Gardner, John Green and William Sutcliffe. And I’ve used Sally’s book cover here because Maggot Moon is truly extraordinary, and since the other books are pretty marvellous, that tells you how good it is. The 2004 winner agrees with me.)

After Tomorrow

By turning a situation round 180 degrees, you could find you don’t agree with yourself. If I were not an immigrant, I would most likely find it easier to cast a suspicious eye on all those foreigners flocking to Britain. Heaven on earth, and everyone made so welcome, too. What’s not to like?

Besides, the other lot aren’t quite as nice as we are.

Gillian Cross has done this. She sends her characters in After Tomorrow to France. The situation in the UK is desperate. Food is scarce and anyone caught hoarding gets rough treatment from gangs of raiders; their food taken, their homes smashed up and people injured, raped and even killed. There is a website naming the Scadgers, telling others where they live.

Matt’s family are branded scadgers, and his grandfather dies after one such attack. His mother and stepfather make belated arrangements to leave the country and escape to France before they close their borders to the British.

(When I’d got this far I felt more anxious than ever while reading ‘mere’ fiction. I began calculating what I had in my freezer. First with a view to survival eating it, and then with fear because someone would come and punish me for it. I was halfway to leaving the country myself. Where to, though? Who would have me? Yes, I know. But perhaps that would no longer be possible.)

Gillian Cross, After Tomorrow

Some of them get away, on what is virtually the last lorry convoy to leave. And on arrival they find only those with children are allowed in. People scheme and lie in order not to be sent back. They have no food to begin with. Nowhere to sleep.

Eventually there is a refugee camp set up, of the simplest kind. They are given food vouchers to shop for. Bartering becomes a new way of surviving. Matt brought his grandfather’s bike, and the lorry driver who drove them to France has grand ideas for it.

The locals hate and distrust them. Most of the refugees don’t speak French. Most don’t want to learn, either.

Now, take all these facts and change the nationalites. Even you, who are normally so fair minded, might think it sounds perfectly normal and only to be expected. But not if it’s you in that muddy field, needing antibiotics that you can’t afford. If the doctor gets there on time.

How far away are we from this kind of scenario on our doorsteps? Sometimes I think we are almost all the way to it. I hope not. And I still can’t decide whether to fill my freezer some more, or to eat most of the food.

Just in case.

Deary me, how terryble

If you haven’t got money you won’t want to read books. In fact, you shouldn’t have the right to read them, because (other) taxpayers shouldn’t have to fund your free reading. Rather like education. Why should those with no children pay to put other people’s kids through school?

Those pesky children might of course turn out to be the surgeon who saves your life 25 years later, but never mind that. Let’s live for today.

The Resident IT Consultant felt I was being strangely insincere in wanting to hang on to libraries, seeing as I don’t – currently – use them. That’s mainly because I already have access to all I can read. I used libraries until I moved to Britain, even after I discovered I could afford to buy English paperbacks. I read more than I bought.

Then I must have fallen foul of the ‘I am new here and I don’t quite know what to do in someone else’s library’ law, so didn’t. When Offspring arrived they had the school library, and before that there were all the book parties. Usborne and Red House parties were de rigueur in my neighbourhood.

And after that the mobile library parked in our street and I went every time it came. I stopped because I helped in Offspring’s secondary school library and there were so many books there I was in heaven. Once I stopped at the school, the mobile library had gone to park elsewhere (was it my fault..?) and I spent a year or two buying books again, since we could afford to, until Bookwitch was born and soon after her, the TBR piles arrived on the scene.

So that’s me. I have very little against libraries. I think we should hang on to the ones we have. Occasionally people with no money want to read books. Quite often people with money read nothing at all. The reading/not reading is not connected to the wallet, unless it has to be.

The well-off middle class children Offspring used to play with in the mid 1990s were delighted to discover libraries when they came along one day. They were readers already, but knew nothing about libraries. I blame the parents.

For obvious reasons, the mobile library had limited shelf space. But I found good stuff there. It’s the place I was introduced to Malorie Blackman and Gillian Cross, and which allowed me to work my way through ‘all’ of theirs. I found Tim Bowler, too, and the lovely and murderous Kate Ellis. They all went on to become firm book friends of the whole family.

Would I have discovered them without the library? I might have been waylaid by something garish and pink in some shop. Who knows?

And as for what authors get from libraries. They acquire readers. As someone pointed out in the Guardian; you can get ideas in the library, and then you go out and buy books. Another thing I’ve noticed authors are ridiculously fond of is the PLR money. So many of them aren’t dreadfully wealthy, and they are happy when that PLR cheque arrives every year. I know, because facebook is awash with PLR happiness for a day or two.

Then there is the greater good. J K Rowling is always saying how grateful she was for benefits, back when she wasn’t rich. She doesn’t need PLR, but I doubt she begrudges others that money. J K wasn’t uneducated, just a bit short of funds. Perhaps she even went to libraries.

Sometimes intelligence and the wish to read doesn’t increase with the bank balance. Actually, it could even be the reverse.

If and when my supply of review copies dries up, I’ll be down at the library too. If it’s still there.

Witching it

It’s odd. Or perhaps it isn’t. The way things connect, unexpectedly. How easy it is being a witch, sometimes.

I was having Sunday breakfast, reading the Guardian Review from Saturday (someone had not provided the paper early enough the previous day). I glanced at the interview in the middle, and turned the page over as I got up to see about ‘the next course’ after my cereal.

Thought about the book by Gillian Cross I had finished the night before. Thought about the other three OUP novels from the event during the week (which I don’t -yet – have) and my thoughts strayed on to Geraldine McCaughrean.

From there I went back to 2004 when I ‘just knew’ that Meg Rosoff would win the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. Knew in that witchy way I can’t explain. Then how I ‘knew’ she’d also win the Whitbread/Costa with How I Live Now. And how I had a wobble the last day in the library before the Christmas holiday and snatched up a copy of Not the End of the World. Maybe I ought to see what Meg was up against.

And there I was, reading about floods and Noah and the end of the world, as the tsunami burst forth. It was almost unbearable. After which Geraldine won the Whitbread for her wonderful, but watery, book.

Then (we are now back at breakfast, obviously) I thought about Geraldine’s new book and how that sounded so interesting. I poured the tea and sat down with the Review again, pleased to find I was actually on the page with the children’s book review. Which, naturally, was The Positively Last Performance by a certain Geraldine McCaughrean. I wanted to read the review, so I did, while hoping it wouldn’t be full of spoilers. It wasn’t. Lovely review, and I have to read that book!

Mustn’t forget Sally Prue’s blog post on The Word Den, as she set off on that OUP tour at the beginning of the week. She blogged about spaewives, taking care to mention that us in the pointy hats are the worst. I am fairly certain it was a slip of the keyboard, and that Sally meant best.

Spae is spå where I come from. Maybe it’s what I do. At least Meg Rosoff almost believed it, back then.

Organised chaos

‘You see what I’ve had to put up with!’ Tim Bowler said as his three female colleagues talked about being ‘more splayed out’ for their panel discussion at MMU on Wednesday evening. I was there to enjoy the kind of stellar line-up you can only dream of, and which ten years ago I wouldn’t have thought possible I’d ever attend.

OUP titles

I got wind of this tour organised by OUP to air these four authors’ new titles, in the place where you always find things out. On facebook, courtesy of Gillian Cross, whom I have admired for years and years. Along with Gillian and Tim we got Sally Prue and Geraldine McCaughrean, so you can understand how my excitement got the better of me.

As things turned out, it was Geraldine who received the ‘I’m a big fan’ greeting, because I’d never met her before, or heard her talk. She is funny. Very funny. (Good funny, obviously.) Tim and Sally I’ve not seen since I last saw them at that dinner in London two years ago. And poor Gillian got the ‘big fan’ attack in Birmingham even longer ago.

Gillian Cross

This time she came up and chatted to me, so I was able to tell her how my heartbeat reacted to her new book, which I began reading yesterday afternoon, in the hopes of calming down. I’ll have to report back on After Tomorrow when I know more. It’s not so much a book for soothing frazzled nerves. That much I can say now.

Claudia at MMU

The evening was organised by OUP’s Jennie (aka she-who-silences-muzak-in-bars) and MMU’s Kaye, with the ever efficient Claudia at her side. Jackie Roy was there to chair the discussion, and she is a woman armed with good questions and the most soothing voice.

Tim was complaining because he has been travelling with these lovely ladies to Dublin and Glasgow and Manchester, finishing in Bristol tonight. He’s a typical boy, talking as much as the other three taken together. Before the audience arrived he entertained us with the tale of the torn trousers, and you can just tell that Gillian didn’t want to see what you might have seen.

The torn trousers - Geraldine McCaughrean, Sally Prue, Jackie Roy, Gillian Cross and Tim Bowler

The torn trousers - Geraldine McCaughrean, Sally Prue, Jackie Roy, Gillian Cross and Tim Bowler

According to Gillian they have been having fun, and now that I have heard Geraldine speak, I can understand what it must have been like this week. Absolutely wonderful…

Tim Bowler

‘Dive-in man’ Tim read from chapter three of Sea of Whispers, which is about yet another girl. He likes girls. He sees a picture in his mind, and then he writes, not knowing what will happen.

Gillian tried to sell us on the idea of a new computer programme she’s been using, ‘Write or Die,’ which seems to eat your typing if you slack for too long. I suppose time-wasting will be a thing of the past, once your fledgling book ‘starts unwriting itself.’

Jackie admitted to having cheated when reading Gillian’s book. She had to look at the end before she could read it at all. (I might have to copy her…) Gillian told us how she had planned what had to happen in her story about a Britain that is collapsing, and where the English become refugees in Europe. And every single thing she thought of, proceeded to happen in real life soon after, which makes it look like she hasn’t got an original thought in her head. Which is so wrong.

Geraldine McCaughrean, Sally Prue and Jackie Roy

Sally told us about her purple Miss Wheeler, the teacher who changed Sally’s life, and made her realise she didn’t have to be small and boring. She could do things, like learn fencing to sort out the big bad wolf. Writing is the ‘widest freedom in the universe.’ Then she read from Song Hunter which is about Neanderthal characters, and taught us how to kill a seal, but asked us not to. (I’m thinking her book might not be very vegetarian.)

Geraldine McCaughrean

Geraldine’s editor has told her a book must always end with a ‘bearable universe,’ which sounds just like Terry Pratchett’s idea about children’s books. She has an ideas box in the corner of her bedroom, although her new book Positively Last Performance didn’t come from this box. The idea was suggested to her by the Royal Theatre in Margate; that she should write about them and then let them share the proceeds of the sales. Which is an unusual approach, but it seems to have worked.

For the Q&As they continued talking about chaos. The good thing about it is that it forces them to write a book to the end, so they can find out what happens. All Tim’s books have rubbish in them (his words) somewhere in the draft process, but he now recognises this, and it’s not too worrying. He knows he will sort it out.

Research is wonderful, according to Geraldine. You do it and then the book writes itself. ‘Displacement activity’ is what Gillian calls research, while Sally tried to calm things down by mentioning the ideas box as a last resort.

They always think about the reader as they write. Tim wants the kind who reads under the blanket with a torch, but this seems to be an out-of-date kind of thing these days. Sally suggested reading should be described as dangerous (reverse psychology), while Geraldine felt it should be outlawed.

So there you have it.

Before the four got going on the pornography shelf, Kaye urged us to come into the atrium for books and photos and wine and canapes. (There were some great mushroom ones.)

Jackie Roy and Kaye Tew

People bought and they chatted and everyone seemed happy. Tim asked after every member* of the Bookwitch family, which was lovely of him. I asked him to say hello to Mrs B for me. Then I got my book signed by Gillian, and she said she hopes I will still talk to her when I’ve finished it. Which I think sounds ominous.

OUP at MMU

MMU

* Even the Resident IT Consultant. He was touched. But then he is.

Higher Ground

Higher Ground

I have mentioned Higher Ground briefly in the past. Anuj Goyal had the bright idea to collect stories written by children’s authors about the 2004 tsunami, for the children who suffered in the tsunami. As it says on the cover, ‘stories inspired by the courage and hope of children who survived.’

Most of the stories are set elsewhere than India, because other countries were much harder hit. Not that details matter, but there are two southern India stories and a couple set in the Andaman Islands and the Nicobar Islands. It doesn’t matter where they are set, because you will cry over all of them. Either because it is very dreadful and sad, or occasionally because something beautiful and wonderful happens. I don’t have a favourite, but keep remembering The Christmas Angel by Cliff McNish.

Apart from the obvious fact of bringing people’s attention to the tsunami children’s realities, it’s good to be able to read more about children in countries we tend to know less about. People go to Thailand, but what do they really know about their holiday hosts?

It’s worth being aware that these stories are based on real tales from the tsunami. They aren’t just something the authors made up. I hope Tim Bowler won’t mind my saying this, but I sort of understood from a comment he made back then, that writing his story made him cry. So, what hope does the reader have?

There aren’t many copies for sale these days, and probably none for the charitable causes it was conceived in aid of. But if you simply want to read about this disaster which now seems very far away, it is possible to get hold of a copy.

Bookwitch bites #75

If I’d known about it I would have wanted to be there. Here is a short video from when some other people spoke up for libraries, with Alan Gibbons at the forefront ‘as usual.’ The others are, in no particular order, Lucy Coats, Candy Gourlay, Philip Ardagh, Gillian Cross, Fiona Dunbar, Chris Priestley, Pat Walsh and the librarian of librarians, Ferelith Hordern. And probably some others I didn’t catch enough of a glimpse of to be able to identify them.

It’s easy for us to take libraries and the whole idea of them for granted. I had no idea that when Candy grew up in the Philippines there weren’t any libraries. And the elderly gentleman in the video who talked so passionately about borrowing books to read… well, it makes me want to cry.

Charlie Brown had access to a library. Probably even Snoopy had a library, unless it was ‘no dogs allowed.’ It can be easy to lose or forget a library book, but as long as you don’t ‘spill coffee’ on a book on purpose, you might be forgiven.

Charlie Brown library cartoon

The coffee spilling was a technique I learned about at work, back in the olden days. Not very honest, and not something I have ever practised.

Finally, here is a link to a radio programme on Monday 26th March, about Scandinavian children’s books, presented by Mariella Frostrup as ‘always.’ Let’s hope it won’t be only the same old stuff, despite the description. I am particularly interested, because I was party to a request for contributions to the programme from the Scandinavian church in Liverpool. Nice that they asked, but not sure who they hoped to find there. (Having said that, I will clearly be faced with all my friends at Gustav Adolf…)

Writing for children

I can’t believe it’s almost five years since my Arvon course. It was one of those things I very much wanted to do, but felt I couldn’t use up funds while there was no money coming in. But I felt it so very strongly that in the end I signed up anyway, when there was just the one place left at Lumb Bank.

Arvon, Lumb Bank

Of course, I didn’t do writing for children. Mine was a sort of non-fiction, general course, which suited me just fine. I see that in this year’s programme they have something for people wanting to get started on blogs and other online writing.

In 2007 I think they offered one, possibly two, weeks for hopeful children’s writers. This year I was impressed to see they do four, and that’s before I discovered it’s actually six weeks. Three of writing for children, two for young adults and one for young people. That’s a lot. It must be due to popular demand, and why wouldn’t people want to come and spend a week in the company of real children’s authors tutoring a group of likeminded budding writers?

I heard about Arvon when Caroline Lawrence reported on having just taught at one of their centres. And I believe she had previously done one of their courses herself. That seems to be the way it is. Lots of current authors have been, and many are now taking up tutoring as the next step.

Just look at who you could rub shoulders with in a kitchen in some beautiful countryside setting; Julia Golding and Marcus Sedgwick, with Mary Hoffman as the midweek special. Or there’s Malachy Doyle and Polly Dunbar, with guest star Anthony Browne. It’s not everywhere you get to hobnob with Children’s Laureates, ex- or otherwise. The two MBs, Malorie Blackman and Melvin Burgess, with Aussie special Simmone Howell. Now that one would be really interesting!

You could have Joan Lennon and Paul Magrs, with yet another Laureate, Julia Donaldson. Martyn Bedford with Celia Rees, and Bali Rai doing the star turn. And finally Gillian Cross and Steve Voake, with guest dramatist Christopher William Hill.

If laureates are your thing, there is always the hope of a week with Carol Ann Duffy, but then you really have to be good. At poetry, I mean. That one is decided on the quality of your poems. Which is not going to be me.

Plus any other kind of writing. All with people who know their stuff. It isn’t cheap, but there are schemes for financial assistance. No internet, and you have to cook your own dinner in groups, so better hope for budding writers who can peel potatoes.

Ms M at Lumb Bank

(We had our own laureate connection – on wall, above – during my week. That’s as well as the house having belonged to a former Poet Laureate.)

Christmas beans

The trainee witch once (almost twice) worked in a bookshop in the weeks leading up to Christmas. This was in the days of Christmas Eve getting the Saturday treatment, shop hour wise. So we closed at twelve, and I recall I had a Saturday bus to catch soon after, where I was the only passenger, on the last bus for a couple of days.

Where was I? Oh yes, in the bookshop, before the last bus. It was quite nice working on Christmas Eve (well, one had a Mother-of-witch doing the kitchen stuff at home…), and something I noticed was that the world is full of people who don’t shop until there are mere hours between the buying of and the opening of presents. It takes a cool and steady mind to be that late.

They come in and spend anything, just to get the deed done. And obviously they require wrapping and all that.

According to Son it seems the wellknown online bookshop can offer the same these days, as long as you live somewhere civilised. Order on Christmas Eve morning and have it delivered that afternoon. It will cost you, but as I said, the Christmas Eve shopper can afford it.

What I’m trying to say here, in a roundabout and waffley way is that you could still manage to buy Magic Beans. I’m truly sorry for being so late mentioning this perfect Christmas book, but I’ve been feeding the cake brandy. And various other minor things.

In Magic Beans you have absolutely the cream of children’s authors doing their thing with classic fairy tales. Adèle Geras retells the The Six Swan Brothers. It’s wonderful with such sibling love. But I wonder what happened to the old King and his witchy wife? It’s funny how Princes and Kings wander around finding themselves wives all over the place.

I don’t think I’ve ever read anything by Henrietta Branford before. Here she retells Hansel and Gretel, without too much gruesomeness. And why do witches and stepmothers get bad press all the time? Berlie Doherty’s The Snow Queen is icy and season appropriate. And below you can listen to Jacqueline Wilson talking about Rapunzel.

Other particpating authors are Anne Fine, Philip Pullman, Michael Morpurgo, Kit Wright, Alan Garner, Gillian Cross, Susan Gates, Malorie Blackman, Linda Newbery and Tony Mitton. And since it’s not only writers you get, every single fairy tale has been illustrated by some pretty creamy artists like Debi Gliori, Ian Beck, Lesley Harker, Nick Sharratt, Patrice Aggs, Peter Bailey, Nick Maland, James Mayhew, Siận Bailey, Ted Dewan, Michael Foreman, Sue Heap and Bee Willey.

By good fortune I have also just found out that some of these stories can be bought as ebooks, so if you’re really desperate…

Don’t say I haven’t provided a useful suggestion. And if you were to go for the old-fashioned dead tree version you get a nice, fat volume with pictures. I’ll even wrap it for you. If you come here, that is.

Normal?

Now that I’m no longer normal (no need to laugh, you know), I don’t know what people know. There was a time when I felt I had some idea of what other people knew and thought about books and authors. That was from the outside, so to speak. I might have been more aware of trends in books for children than your average Joe Bloggs. But pro rata I knew about much the same books as anyone else.

OK, I seem to have been the one to tell everyone else around me to read Harry Potter, just before Potter-mania broke out in 1999. But I just picked up that knowledge from the papers and then went out and bought my copies. From shops that were really very unaware, I must say. They can’t have been reading the papers. I know, it’s the staff I mean. Can’t accuse shops of lack of awareness and not reading, even when they are bookshops.

I found Tim Bowler and Malorie Blackman and Gillian Cross in the mobile library. At the time I had no idea if they were big names or just incidental finds on the shelves. I bought Northern Lights to take on holiday, also in 1999, and also on the say-so of newspaper reviews.

Now though, I know so much from the inside that I haven’t the faintest idea what Joe Bloggs has heard of. Yes, the above authors are big. No question about that. But all the others, whether they have written ‘just’ one really excellent novel or they have had four or five wonderful books published. Are they known outside the children’s books world?

If I could ask them how well their books have sold, it’d be easier to gauge their possible success. But that’s almost as bad as wanting to know what someone earns.

There are authors I’m very surprised to find are really well known with young readers, when I’ve barely heard of them. But the reverse is commoner; I think someone is really well known and then find that people look totally blank when I mention their names.

So, being on the inside can be confusing, as well as enlightening. I find out a lot, but don’t know how relevant or true anything is.

One of the last books I found out about while I was still ‘normal’ was Divided City by Theresa Breslin, which I mentioned on Saturday. I got far enough to think that I must read that, when things escalated and I just never caught up with it. Some kind soul read my blog post last week and I now have a copy of Divided City lying in wait for me.

That’s what’s nice about being on the inside. I don’t know what I know, but I know something.