Monthly Archives: October 2013

The #4 profile – Rhiannon Lassiter

I have alway been a little scared of Rhiannon Lassiter. I don’t know why. I met her briefly five years ago and she was really lovely, so I know I have no cause for worry. But how can you have a Halloween author profile without a good scare?

Maybe it’s because Rhiannon wrote a book while still at university? That feels so ultra-clever. Her books also strike me as ‘scarier than average.’ (Have you seen how she looks at us? And is that a graveyard?)

Over ttto Rrrhiannon:

Rhiannon Lassiter

How many books did you write before the one that was your first published book?

Although I’d started novels, the first one I finished was the first one accepted.

My first novel was accepted for publication while I was at university. Prior to that I’d submitted a draft proposal to a couple of publishing companies who’d said they were interested in reading more from me but that they didn’t think the idea I’d submitted (a fantasy story) was quite original enough. Then I started work on a science fiction novel, submitted a draft – and it was it accepted.

I know this is atypical and I feel fortunate to have got such a positive response so early on in my career.

Best place for inspiration?

I get ideas wherever I am. But I think some of my best have come on holiday and out of my usual environment. A house in the Lake District inspired Bad Blood. I began Waking Dream in Italy. Ghost of a Chance came from a weekend visit to a stately home.

Would you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Perhaps you already do?

I’ve sometimes thought about it because I like coming up with names for my theoretical other identity but I am too jealous of my ideas to assign them to another name. I want them all associated with me!

What would you never write about?

An experience I couldn’t identify with. If I couldn’t imagine myself into that identity or situation I couldn’t write about it.

Through your writing: the most unexpected person you’ve met, or the most unexpected place you’ve ended up in?

I was sent a photograph by a film producer of a teenage actress holding one of my books who was interested in playing the lead if it’s ever made into a film. I don’t think I can say who it was, though – sorry!

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

When I wrote Hex I wanted to be Raven. Since then I’ve put parts of myself into all of my characters so most of them are people who are like me or who I’d like to be. If I had to choose one it would be Poppy from Waking Dream because she’s a witch in a dream landscape.

Do you think that having a film made of one of your books would be a good or a bad thing?

I’d like it to happen. Although I know films don’t stick religiously to the written text, I’d like to see my characters brought to life. There’s been some film interest in Hex and it’s exciting to imagine that becoming a film. Because it’s science fiction, it’s the only way I’d get to see some of my ideas made real.

What is the strangest question you’ve been asked at an event?

Someone once asked me if I thought it was worse having monthly periods or uncontrollable erections. I said I thought being a teenager came with a lot of alarming side effects for everyone…

Do you have any unexpected skills?

I’m good at computer games. I don’t find that odd but sometimes teenagers I meet are amazed that I play GTA or SSX.

The Famous Five or Narnia?


Who is your most favourite Swede?

I don’t seem to have one, sorry. I checked and Lene Kaaberbole is Danish and Tove Jansson is from Finland.

How do you arrange your books at home? In a Billy? By colour, or alphabetically?

I keep a Billy in the attic which holds a heap of detective novels. The rest of my books are in built-in shelving and a few overflow bookcases. They are arranged by genre (picture books, junior, adult, SF and fantasy, graphic novels, non-fiction, myths and legends, cookery etc). They are all shelved alphabetically except the cookery books and non-fiction.

Which book would you put in the hands of an unwilling eight-year-old boy reader?

It depends why they were reluctant but either The Recruit (the first of Robert Muchamore’s Cherub series) or Ordinary Jack (the first Bagthorpe book) by Helen Cresswell.

If you have to choose between reading or writing, which would it be?

I’d choose reading.

But if I’m reading, I’m thinking – and my thinking tends to come in the form of making up stories. Even if I never wrote anything more via pen, pencil or keyboard I’d still be writing in my head.

Yep, I’m still scared. Take away Rhiannon’s keyboard and she will still write. Her books seem to be in perfect order, and as to the strangest question, well…

(Not a single Swede, either. It’s Halloween; let’s plump for pumpkins.)


Little Witches

Little WitchesI have found the perfect little book for your Halloween reading. It’s Rhiannon Lassiter’s Little Witches Bewitched, a collection of five short stories about two little witches.

Rhiannon Lassiter, Little Witches Bewitched!

While it’s all very well to get into the spirit of things this time of year, I have to admit to preferring sweet spooky, to terribly frighteningly spooky. And that’s what you get in this brand new ebook, which celebrates Halloween tomorrow by being available for a mere £1.53. I’m telling you about it today, because I want your trigger fingers to be ready to go.

Dulcie is 11 and she wants to be a witch. When out trick-or-treating she meets Verity who is 12 and while she didn’t exactly want to be a witch to begin with – especially not one wearing pirate’s boots from the dressing-up box – she soon changes her mind. Through a slight ‘mishap’ the two girls actually become real witches, albeit only little witches.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable collection of stories, and since I don’t want to spoil it for you, I will say no more. Except, you meet some fun characters, and these are two quick-witted witches. Small, but brave.


As a follow-up to last week’s post on how much authors earn, I give you pies.

The very kind and extremely hardworking Anne Rooney (who should be in the over £75K category, but probably isn’t) couldn’t settle until she’d made me some pies. And then she sent them over. Having studied Anne’s multi-coloured circles and pondered, I believe I need to share all of them with you. There is something starkly interesting about these coloured slices on how well people feel they do.

Graph 1

Are children’s books mostly written by women because junior citizens are more ‘women’s work’? Or is it that the low pay scale makes it a job for women? But then, why are so many the main earner in their household? They have certainly been at it for quite some time.

Graph 3

What makes them do it? Writing (a whole book) seems like hard work, so how come writers do it, as well as holding down another job? There is no mention of those other tasks, like childcare or ironing, which presumably comes on top of the two or more paid jobs.

Graph 2

But it’s that last pie chart that sends a chill down my spine. I’m aware that the no segment is twice the size of the yes, but even so…

We have a lot to be grateful for. That so many are not contemplating giving up, and that there are so many partners propping up the world of children’s books.

Thank you.

The first time

Did you throw a party when your child had their first haircut? I didn’t think so. Neither did I. It seems Nigerians do, and it strikes me as a most civilised way of making something out of an ordinary occurence. (Perhaps I wouldn’t have felt so guilty at snipping off Son’s beautiful, almost blond but far too long curls, if I’d had a party to prepare.)

Ifeoma Onyefulu has written two picture books (illustrated with photographs) about that special first haircut, and about going to the doctor for the first time.

Vicky Goes to the Doctor shows poor Vicky feeling off-colour. She won’t eat her dinner or play with her friends, so her mother takes her to see the doctor. It’s very low-key, but it does show a nervous child what it could be like, which is often what you need.

Ifeoma Onyefulu, Ife's first haircut

In Ife’s First Haircut Ife’s sister complains that his hair is too long. Her father explains that Ife will indeed have his hair cut, but first they need to shop and cook for the party that accompanies the occasion.

Two sweet, everyday kind of books, which seem all the more exotic – to me – for being set in  Nigeria.

Spies in Disguise

Boy in Tights is not exactly about how real spies behave. At least I hope not. Joe suddenly finds that his ultra-boring and cautious parents are spies. With only minutes to spare they have to flee their home and set off on high speed car chases to shake off their pursuers.

Kate Scott, Boy in Tights

As if that’s not unreal enough, once they get to their new home Joe discovers he will have to live as Josie and wear pink dresses and other awful things that his father has bought for him. What was the mother thinking? She should have overseen her son’s makeover into a girl. There is nothing so strange as bad taste crossover dressing.

It’s really quite funny the discoveries Joe, pardon, Josie, makes once he’s wearing those ghastly tights. Girls are different! They behave in an alien fashion. They talk instead of punching each other. They go to the toilet together. The girls in his class even invite him to join them in playing.

But it’s not just the parents that are weird. Joe-sie finds a mystery on his new doorstep, so to speak, and with the help of a new friend – a girl! – he embarks on the mis-use of his parents’ spy toys.

Can he do it before his own secrets are discovered, or before that blond wig of his falls off?

This is really silly. But fun in the ‘girls are different from boys’ sense. And these days everyone plays football.


30 seconds from home (that’s a lot less than 24 hours from Tulsa) the police caught up with us. It was nothing too serious.

Son’s 21st birthday went almost un-noticed. He spent it having lunch with the Retired Children’s Librarian. As you will have seen from yesterday’s post we spent his sister’s 21st with him (rather than with the birthday girl herself), so I suppose that almost makes up for it?

One day late, we drove across Fife to eat too much cake. In fact, it was such an excessively cakey day I don’t think I can let on how much we ate.

Anyway, we began by donating our ancient telescope to Daughter’s place of learning, in what can only be described as our version of passing the parcel. The telescope was never un-wanted. Just that little bit too cumbersome. A former toy of the Resident IT Consultant’s grandfather and older siblings, it has been passed back and forth between family members.

The Grandmother and I waited in the Physics department while the donating was being carried out (it was raining, which feels so wrong for Fife). Daughter might have felt we were a slight embarrassment – even though we had come to celebrate with her – but I pointed out that the only Physics graduate present was the Grandmother. Actually.

After the ‘doning’ we had toast, to mop up the first lot of cake. After that we had more cake. There was also a half eaten cake in her kitchen from the day before…


While Daughter toasted, the Resident IT Consultant put the finishing touches to her Ivar, which is much smaller than Son’s and is not a stack of wooden wine cases after all.

Post-cake I read Dragon Loves Penguin to Daughter, despite the fact that she knows how to read. In return she foisted a bag full of books on me to take home. I can understand that. Her Ivar really has very little room left.

Without feeling all that hungry we repaired to our usual eating place, meeting up with Son and Dodo as well as the two AstroSoc dignitaries that the Resident IT Consultant wanted to grill (albeit not for food purposes). We ate some more, and Son ordered all the extra three for twos on the menu. Or so it seemed.


Us oldies finished off by coming along to Daughter’s little gathering at the cinema, where we had crisps and cupcakes to offer. There must have been something wrong with those students. They hardly touched the free ‘food.’

When the time came for the film, they all obeyed as Son announced – loudly – that they should toddle off towards the auditorium, but still they wanted no cake. Or crisps.


So here we are, still un-arrested. Cupcake anyone?

Wardrobe work

‘We had toast for breakfast. That’s why there is no internet!’ So said Son when he found the laptop refusing to perform to his expectations. (Plugs sharing the same socket, I gather.)

Do you remember my desk in the wardrobe? Now it seems as if the next generation is destined to work in another ex-wardrobe. The new flat Son and Dodo bought is nice but small. As well as the bare necessities it has – or had – a walk-in wardrobe. But this is no more, after Son demolished its wardrobeness and painted it to match the adjoining hall.

The future office

The Resident IT Consultant and I brought a car load of books and Ivar shelves, a desk-chair and a makeshift desktop to use as, well, as a desktop. In the ex-wardrobe. It looks a bit cell-like, and if you feel that the old telescope is surplus to requirements (for a small office), then you are quite right. It is going to the observatory – obviously – in St Andrews, but had to temporarily exit the car while this transported rubbish to the tip, to avoid being accidentally disposed of.

Books for charity

Along with the wardrobe office the new home also came with a shed. The shed came with a lot of unwanted stuff, some of which went straight to the tip and some to Oxfam. By special good fortune we had an Oxfam book specialist with us, and we put her to work on sorting the books from the shed. Her being of a Grandmotherly sort of age, we carried a stool out for her to sit on in the autumn sunshine.

Pullman and Pratchett

Meanwhile, Dodo unpacked Son’s precious Philip Pullmans and Terry Pratchetts, and they fitted nicely in the bookcase formerly owned by the student Grand-father. (Apparently they have an ambition to actually use – some – furniture that is not IKEA. Quaint idea.)

The office

Towards the end of the day Son got his new tools out and attached legs to the desktop. Then he had to take two of them off again in order to get the ‘desk’ into the wardrobe. Then put them back on, after which Dodo had to crawl in under the desk to adjust the height.

But by the time we left, there was a fledgling office waiting to be worked in! Not bad for a day that started with toast.

Dragon Loves Penguin

And Bookwitch absolutely loves this book!

Debi Gliori’s latest picture book is the most loveable of them all. Of that I’m sure. I would like to hug it and take it to bed with me. It made me cry. Debi knows a lot about love, and I’m glad. Very young readers need this kind of book.

It’s the traditional plot of the small child who asks for a bedtime story or they just can’t go to sleep. Bib the little penguin knows he wants the one about the dragons.

Debi Gliori, Dragon Loves Penguin

So Bib’s Mummy sits down and reads it to him. It’s about dragons who come to live somewhere that is far too cold for them. Somewhere they don’t belong. There is a dragon with no egg. And an egg with no mummy. Luckily the two find each other.

There is a lot of love.

But this egg, Little One, is different from the other eggs (who are all dragons), and suffers the kind of prejudice that different ones have always suffered.

But there was a lot of love to draw strength and courage from. And good things happen.

There’s more love.

It’s very lovely.

I’m going to have to read this to my own littlest egg.

(On a more technical note, even I could tell that Debi had changed what she uses to ‘make those pretty pictures’ and I gather it’s a combination of charcoal and watercolours. It’s rather lovely.)

Looks dead easy, don’t you think?

Some ‘sprätting’ necessary

Sorry about that. I’m not really sure what ‘sprätta’ is in English. Unpick was suggested, but feels wrong. It’s what you used to have to do to – some – books in Sweden in the olden days (those olden days include my own past, so really ‘quite recently’).

I was reminded of this interesting pastime when the Guardian television guide came needing some ‘sprätting’ to be usable. I reached across the kitchen and grabbed the old letter opener I had recently remembered I had, and set to work. It was oddly satisfying, sitting there opening page after page.

But to do it to a whole book? And to book after book? Well, it pales after a while.

In my childhood – youth, even – books first came both as a fancy hardback and often as ‘häftad,’ which was cheaper. It would be exactly the same pages, only not cut open, and in a soft binding. Sort of like a rougher version of today’s large format trade paperbacks.

You had the choice of either slitting open every page at once, which took forever. Or, you could read with the letter opener in one hand, slitting as you went. If you tired of either book or slitting, you’d leave behind a half open book.

Apparently there are now people who have never come across this. I googled the term and found various blog posts on the subject, where people felt hard done by, having bought an old book and discovering it was a ‘closed’ book. They thought they’d been cheated (rather like Mr and Mrs School Friend did when they visited a tearoom in Buxton many years ago, and found one pot was full of tea and the other only had water in it…). And many commenters on these blogs said they’d never even heard of this type of book.

I mostly didn’t buy books back then, being a little too young to feel I could actually afford to. But I was struck by how relatively cheap the ‘häftad’ version was, and would definitely have gone for that, had I been buying.

I own a few books like this, either inherited from someone, or bought second hand. I think they look nicely craggy.

But I’m fully aware I wasn’t the one wielding the knife.

Show me your money

I asked, and you did.

Had this been Sweden, I needn’t have asked. Most information about what anyone earns, or any fortune they tell the tax authorities about, is available for anyone to see.

But I’ve been thinking about this for years, and finally plucked up the courage to ask authors what they earn and how well they feel they can live off their book earnings. And if it costs them money, too. Because just like I pay to blog, increasingly I’ve been feeling that some authors are forking out – a fair bit of – money to help their books along.

The survey was not perfect. It was my first ever. But I asked what I wanted to know, and that was annual income (yes, I know there is no such thing, and it fluctuates, widely), primarily from sales (including advances and royalties) of books, but also any other kind of income like PLR, prize money, fees for talks, film rights, etc.

Then there’s the possibility that the author has a(nother) paid job, or that they have partners who support them, or perhaps they are the main breadwinner and need to keep other family members in the style to which they have become accustomed. Can they even live off their book earnings? Are they thinking of giving up writing because of the money?

For people who actually understand that most authors don’t earn millions, it could still come as a surprise that not everyone has a real, liveable on kind of annual salary. Or that you are paid this year, but will have to wait another few years for the next lot of money to come your way.

Who did I ask? Well, everyone (children’s authors) that I was able to contact either by email or via facebook. People I ‘know’ and who mostly know me, or of me. That was close to 200. I had 83 replies. A big thank you to all! I know who some of them were, because they wrote and told me that they’d filled in the survey, but I don’t know who the individual results belong to. The Resident IT Consultant sat by his computer and watched in amazement as the answers piled in. But he doesn’t know who I contacted.

Someone suggested that I might know the kind of writer who is better off than average. I’m not sure, because some really don’t earn very much from their writing. And how do you decide what is an OK income? Is it the same as you or more, or are you dissatisfied with what you have?

26 men and 57 women, with a fairly even distribution of how long they’ve been writing. Around a quarter each for less than five years, between five and ten years, 10-20, and over 20 years. 53 of them are the main breadwinner, including two on less than £1000 a year. I’m guessing those two have other jobs. If I’m being sexist about this and assume that all the men are the main breadwinner, that leaves 27 women who are as well, on whatever money they earn.

27 people say the money is definitely not enough to live on, and 27 are considering giving up writing. I wonder if they are the same 27?

‘But how much money do they earn?’ I hear you ask. Well, nine make less than £1000 and twelve between £1K and £5K. 24 authors earned from £5K to £15K, and another 19 £15K to £30K. Eleven lucky ones made £30K to £75K, while nine earned over £75K. (So had JKR been part of this, that’s presumably where she would have been.) As more than one person pointed out, their income varies crazily from one year to the next. One writer said she had been in each category at some time or other. Another mentioned the nightmare of paying tax, based on such unevenly timed earnings.

The Resident IT Consultant played around with the figures a bit, and assuming the range is between £500 and £85,ooo, then the median income is £7K for those who have been published for less than five years. Authors with more than 10 years behind them had a median income of £18K, while those in the middle made £13K. But if the highest earners are considerably wealthier than this assumption, that would obviously change.

I’m half wishing I’d had one more, much higher income option, but I felt that over £75K was an indication of quite an acceptable income, one which many would be very satisfied with, and that excessive success needn’t be measured here. (Although I’m naturally very pleased for anyone so excessive!) All nine who earned over £75K felt they lived comfortably, and so did some of the writers above £15K. This must vary with how many are dependent on their income; whether someone is single or has ten children and as many dogs.

For other income, 37 have partners who earn, and three work full time at something else, and nine do part time non-book work. Only a handful  employ someone else, such as a PA or their own publicist. And along the same lines, 45 people send out up to five review copies of their book themselves, and 17 send out up to 20 copies, while three send out more.

A lot of writers have won awards, whether major (19) or more local (45) book awards. The estimated median income for major (Carnegie, Costa/Whitbread, Guardian, Smarties, etc) award winners is £23K, compared with £15K for others. Does that mean you make more money having won an award, or does award winning ‘qualities’ mean you are likely to sell more books anyway?

Most authors who contacted me privately wanted to give their best year. That’s understandable, because it looks better that way. But it would also indicate that writers on average earn more than they really do. We want authors to make good money, but for any kind of sympathy the real state of affairs needs to be made public.

And those awards that authors get invited to attend? 15 respondents have paid for travel and accommodation themselves, with six paying more than £100 in one year. It’s worth remembering that many awards are more honour than income. Might generate more sales, and thereby higher earnings, but not necessarily.

So there you have it. Things could be worse, but they could certainly be better too. Let’s hope it’s not your favourite author who hangs up their laptop because they quite like feeding their children, or heating their homes. Sometimes even both.