Monthly Archives: August 2013

Looking For JJ – 10 years on

I can’t believe it’s been ten years since Anne Cassidy’s Looking For JJ was first published! (Perhaps I didn’t read it when it was brand new? Actually, I probably did. It’s when I started in the school library and suddenly had access to loads of books.)

Anne Cassidy, Looking For JJ

All this time I’ve remembered p47. It’s where – or more accurately when – I felt like stopping because it was so heart-rendingly difficult to read I didn’t think I had it in me. But I carried on. Now I suspect it wasn’t exactly p47, because I have had a peek at it. Or have they rearranged the pages a little in the new edition?

I found both aspects of the story hard to deal with. The murder of the girl was awful. And the discovery of the murderer’s new identity made for bleak reading.

And now it’s back.

In February next year there will be a sequel, Finding Jennifer Jones. The prospect scares me, but at the same time I feel maybe I must read it. What makes it more intriguing is that the reissued Looking For JJ is published by Scholastic, while the sequel will be coming from Hot Key Books. Cooperation over something both see as important, I imagine.

To prove that the Ann(e)s think alike, here is a link to what Anne herself has to say over on ABBA. More stuff I didn’t know. And strange that we managed it on the same day.

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Writing Children’s Fiction

The trouble with a book like Writing Children’s Fiction: A Writers’ and Artists’ Companion,  is that it makes someone like me believe that they can write a children’s book. It is that good, and it is above all, that inspiring.

(So avoid at all costs if you don’t want to sit down and write a book just now.)

Linda Newbery and Yvonne Coppard provide loads of good advice for the budding author, based on how they themselves go about writing. Linda, for instance, began by wanting to be Monica Dickens. (Makes a change from all of us who thought we were Enid Blyton.)

Along with their own tried and tested methods, they have invited the cream of British children’s authors to share their thoughts on what to do. Or not to do. Many of them started off making beginner’s mistakes. Now that they have done it for you, your own path will be that much straighter.

I was pleased to learn Mal Peet made Marcus Sedgwick concerned with his flying-by-the-seat-of-his-pants technique. A little more worried by Meg Rosoff decking an interviewer for saying writing looked easy. Tim Bowler was a child prodigy if he’s to be believed, and Mary Hoffman has had a lifelong love affair with her muse, Italy.

Once inspiration has you in its grips, there are workshops on every possible aspect of writing books. And because these ladies don’t seem to doubt that my (your) book will get published, there are links to useful consultancies, blogs and how to get a school visit arranged.

And how could you fail? There are so many tips, not to mention inspirational tales in Writing Children’s Fiction, that you will be absolutely fine. Anne Fine, who has written the foreword, wishes she had had access to this kind of guide when she began, instead of doing it the hard way.

I will try to refrain from embarking on a book, but will be happy to review yours when it’s done. Always assuming you have followed the advice and made it a good one. But you will.

The Eye of Neptune

With his Monster Odyssey The Eye of Neptune, Jon Mayhew has written a Jules Verne prequel. I wish I had thought of that, back in my most fervent Verne-reading years. Although I’m not sure I could have come up with the downright gruesome sea creatures that literally fill this book.

Jon Mayhew, The Eye of Neptune

Prince Dakkar has been living with the mysterious Count Oginski for four years, learning ‘useful’ things for when it is time to return to his own country and take over as ruler. But when Oginski is kidnapped, Dakkar saves himself by escaping in the strange submersible that his mentor has built.

And from then on this is a rollicking adventure featuring the dreadful sea creatures and the pirates and other humans who live in and on the sea. Britain and America are at war, and Dakkar needs to avoid being caught as a spy when he ends up in America. That’s not a problem for long, as Dakkar gets more ‘caught up with’ the enormous and dangerous creatures that seem to have something to do with C.

C wants to rule the world. And he is mad. Or maybe not?

This is the perfect adventure for those readers who fancy themselves as someone who could save the world. Dakkar is the archetypical adventurer; brave, reckless, clever and exotic. You want to be him, or to be his friend.

I believe there’s more books coming, so it would seem the world has not been totally saved yet. Excellent news!

The Edinburgh author photos

Nicola Morgan by Chris Close

At last! I have a gap for the photos from the EdBookFest I so craved. I have already inserted Nicola Morgan into Sunday’s post where she belongs, but in case you don’t feel like going back to look for her, I give you Nicola once more.

My faithful photographer actually sent me over a hundred pictures. You don’t get to see all of them. Certainly not today, but obviously not even later. I will cherrypick and serve you the best. And like a true miser I shall eke them out over an awfully long time…

She did manage to cover almost my whole witchlist, pardon me, wishlist, and the ones she missed was because it is so hard to be in two places at once. And you know, a few of these authors I didn’t recognise. They are people I haven’t met, and somehow they didn’t look quite like they do in other pictures, or the way I’d imagined them.

But I’m sure they were really them. Maybe.

Jon Mayhew

Definitely Jon Mayhew. I know him. And I know the tree. It’s ‘our’ photo tree.

Elen Caldecott

And I recognise Elen Caldecott, even though we’ve never met.

Charlie Fletcher

This picture of Charlie Fletcher surprised me. I realised I had no idea at all what he looked like. Like this, I’d say, unless some perfect stranger started signing copies of Far Rockaway.

Modest and much admired

She’s going to kill me for that. Except Hilary McKay is too nice to kill anyone.

She asked for balloons by the gate. Not too much to ask for, but whereas I do have balloons, I have no gate, so it was foreign flag on the door instead. We’ve not actually been that festive since some birthday over a year ago. And Hilary brought the most beautiful flowers! (Which I got the Resident IT Consultant to find a vase for, seeing as my regular photographer-cum-putter-into-vase assistant was unavailable.)

You’ll soon be asking what I had to offer someone like Hilary, to make her journey all the way from Derbyshire worthwhile. Scones. Nothing more. Just that. Hilary even phoned to advise me of her ETA, and offered to delay if she was too early… You can see the headlines, can’t you? ‘Whitbread winner seen walking and waiting outside witch’s lair.’

Hilary McKay books

In my usual bad hostess mode I did my interview with Hilary first. She had modestly suggested there was nothing to ask her, while I knew I needed the business side out of the way, so I could fully enjoy the chatting and the gossiping (only nicely, obviously). I enjoyed it so much that I have no photos to show for the afternoon, which is probably how my visitor prefers it.

Apart from one hairy moment when Hilary was all for kidnapping me and go visit St Sioux, we were fine. I decided it wasn’t too cold to sit outside, so she suffered through tea and scones on the deck, only protesting as New Neighbour started lopping branches off his apple tree. With apples on them!

After conversations about family and gardens and double garages in Scotland, I forced some books on Hilary as she got ready to leave in her beautifully blue car (which she talks to).

I think I must make the effort with balloons next time. It’s the least I could do.

The Resident IT Consultant asked permission to eat the crumbs left over from the scones orgy. In view of his services with both flowers and tea making I said he could.

Lockwood & Co – The Screaming Staircase

This is the kind of book you fall in love with at first sight. Even when the cover of the proof is all black and claims to harbour a Type II Apparition in the bottom right hand corner. As if that would scare me!

(I gather I could download an app, and I would actually see the ghost, and then I might die from ghostlock, and that would be rather terrible, so I don’t think I will. Even so, quite exciting.)

Jonathan Stroud, The Screaming Staircase

Jonathan Stroud’s new book, The Screaming Staircase, is absolutely marvellous! At first I believed it to be Victorian. It feels Victorian, but is set today, in an ‘alternate’ Britain. My Victorian confusion lasted until I worked out that all was ‘normal’ except that some time in the middle of the last century ghosts started appearing more and more, and they became dangerous.

So what we have is a society geared towards staying safe from ghosts. There is a a curfew at night, and people surround themselves with iron and silver, and that way most of them survive. Young people are different, which is why children are sent out to patrol at night, and the agents who try and find and destroy ghosts are all in their early teens. Some of them survive.

Lockwood & Co is a small agency, consisting of Lockwood himself, George and new recruit Lucy. We meet them as they attempt to free someone’s house from its resident ghost, which might have killed the owner’s husband.

Lucy is the narrator, and she’s an intelligent and brave girl ‘not above fifteen years’ who hears ghosts more than she sees them. Her boss Lockwood (who reminded me a lot of Albert Campion) is a little vague, but runs his agency with an iron hand. Most of the time. George eats doughnuts and finds facts, besides being an awfully good agent.

The three of them encounter some pretty gruesome ghosts in a dreadfully haunted house. But it’s not only ghosts and ghostlock you need to worry about. This is a crime novel at heart. One which features ghosts and plenty of humour among all the grisly stuff.

I’d like to hear more from Lockwood & Co (apart from that letter Lockwood sent me, claiming my property is being troubled by various apparitions!). Lots more. There is little indication that there will be more, but I live in hope.

Monsters, Mayhew, Melvin, Morgan

When Daughter sat down to hear what Jon Mayhew had to say about his Monster Odyssey on Saturday afternoon, my only option was open up the book and start reading. Admittedly, that’s a pretty good thing to do as well. But it’s not exactly the EIBF, is it?

I encouraged Daughter to go for the day, since it might be fun, and it would mean that at least one of us managed a few hours of the 2013 bookfest. I even – sneakily – hoped there might be the odd photo I would be allowed to use. (I only emailed her a long wishlist of who to stalk round Charlotte Square…)

Odd is not the word for Nicola Morgan. But I had heard a rumour that she had been given the Chris Close photographic treatment and I wanted to see what he had done to her. That, too, required someone to go and find Nicola and take a picture of the findings.

Nicola Morgan by Chris Close

Will Hill did an evening event for slightly older children (like mine, or thereabouts). I always reckon they offer something for young readers to go to while their parents do something more mature, like an event for the elderly or a visit to the bar. Or something. Daughter has liked Will’s books ever since one caught her in a bookshop a couple of years ago. Dangerous places, bookshops.

Melvin Burgess is doing a YA event in Charlotte Square today, and did an adult one on Saturday evening, complete with photocall and everything. His two Wagnerian novels, Bloodtide and Bloodsong have just been reissued, and very good they look too. I mean the covers. I read the blood books when they first came out, and they are fantastic.

Some of Melvin’s other oldies are also out again, including my personal favourites The Cry of the Wolf and An Angel for May, as well as The Baby and Flypie and Burning Izzy. So, lots of topnotch books to read for those who didn’t last time round. (The best excuse is to have been too young then.)

And let’s face it; by not travelling to Edinburgh we have more time for reading, don’t we?