Category Archives: Tim Bowler

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 EIBF 2013 programme

It’s not exactly a bad programme this year. It’s not exactly short on authors, either. I’ve probably missed a few, seeing as I have only browsed the pdf  in a hasty fashion, but even so, were it not for the fact that I actually know I am unable to cover the full two and a half weeks of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, I’d sign up for the complete works. Again.

I’d been thinking a weekend. Maybe a longish weekend, but no more than four days. But which longish weekend? And what about the fantastic midweek offerings?

This is going to be an easy post to write! I could simply list authors, one after the other. But that would be boring.

For the time being I will not cover the adult writers, although I noticed Salman Rushdie is coming. Roddy Doyle. And Patrick Ness is an adult this time.

So, first weekend ‘as usual’ we have Meg Rosoff, as well as her stable (yeah, right…) mates Eoin Colfer and Cathy Cassidy. Anne Fine, Tommy Donbavand, Helena Pielichaty, Linda Strachan, Andy Mulligan. Carnegie winner Sally Gardner. Obvious choice. First weekend it will be.

Meg Rosoff

On the other hand, during the week when it grows a little quieter we have Elizabeth Wein. Hmm. Debi Gliori with Tobermory Cat. Nicola Morgan. Lari Don and Vivian French. Damien M Love. Well, that would be good!

But Elen Caldecott is someone I’ve always missed. She’s there the second weekend. It will have to be the middle weekend. Charlie Fletcher, Teresa Breslin and Eleanor Updale, Jon Mayhew and Darren Shan. Need I say more? OK, Tom Palmer, Chae Strathie. Melvin Burgess. Keith Gray.

Jonathan Stroud has a new book coming, which I like the look of. And he’s there the second week. So are Julie Bertagna and Teri Terry, and Daniel Hahn is talking translation. That is interesting.

Having said that, the last, extra long weekend looks by far the best. Doesn’t it? Judit Kerr. Neil Gaiman. Our new children’s laureate, Malorie Blackman. Our own Liz Kessler, and Tim Bowler. Philip Caveney from ‘home’ and Derek Landy, whom I’ve not seen for a long time… Jo Nadin and Spideyman himself, Steve Cole.

Yes. No competition there. Except maybe all the other days.

What do the rest of you think?

(Sorry. I see I have done a list after all.)

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.

Today

So, how are we? All present and correct?

I’m not one to buy into this end of the world stuff. I had actually managed to escape the latest ending of our world until quite recently, when I read in Vi magazine what was happening. Their reporter had been to France and was amused by the restaurant he came across, that offered a spectacular last night meal with entertainment.

Perhaps he has not read Douglas Adams? I suspect the restaurant people might have, unlikely though it sounds.

But it set me thinking apocalyptic thoughts. There is Tim Bowler’s Apocalypse; bleak, but not quite the end of everything. (Unless I got it all wrong?)

There is/was – or maybe not – Nicola Morgan’s novel which tried to be Apocalypse, but changed into The Passionflower Massacre ( a much better title, now that I stop to reflect) in deference to Tim.

Most likely there are apocalypses everywhere with our taste for dystopias and horror. (Quick search in online shop only netted a couple more, surprisingly.)

Some years ago the Resident IT Consultant returned home and mentioned he’d seen a film while away. I asked what film. He said it was called The Day Before Yesterday. Or something. Personally I find his a more interesting title than The Day After Tomorrow (which is what he did see.)

Let’s get on with today…

Hello, is anyone there?

Anyone at all?

Maybe it was a mistake to set this blog post to appear automatically?

Troublesome cats and other airborne coincidences

I own two books bearing the title Cat’s Cradle. One is Nick Green’s soon to be published final Cat Kin book. The other is by Julia Golding, in her Cat Royal series. No, I lie. I believe I also have a copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle somewhere.

I don’t mind. If there are only seven original plots, it stands to reason there are only so many book titles as well. Obviously more than seven, but anyway. I doubt Nick or Julia are about to sue each other.

Nicola Morgan has told us about her first novel, Mondays Are Red, which features synesthesia, and its main character Luke. It was published almost simultaneously with Tim Bowler’s Starseeker. Same topic. Same character name. They didn’t sue, either. But when both proceeded to write novels with the fabulous title Apocalypse, one of them changed it. Great minds think alike.

Adèle Geras wrote an adult novel with a similar plot to one by Marika Cobbold. I asked if she knew Marika’s book. She didn’t. It was another of those ‘it must be something in the air or the water’ coincidences. Happens all the time. It’s not plagiarism. Zeitgeist, maybe? (We have to keep in mind the number of plots available in this life.)

When I read Lee Weatherly’s Angel I half thought that she might have been after ‘the next Twilight’ by going for angels instead of vampires. But Lee had the idea 15 years ago, before the world was gripped by vampire fever, and well before all the other angel books we now see in bookshops.

Some writers do jump on bandwagons, because it’s what publishers want. The next wizard, another vampire. And now it’s dystopias. Julie Bertagna barely got the OK for Exodus, because back then dystopias weren’t in. Now they are. And not all of them could possibly have got the idea from reading someone else’s book first.

It takes time to make a book. From author’s idea to bookshop is usually a lengthy process. People don’t plagiarise on a whim. Coincidences happen. Recently I mused about the number of wolves I had reviewed in a short time. There are also several books out now with the name Grimm somewhere in the title.

Coincidence.

What I am working towards here, is a troublesome cat. He is causing considerable concern for Debi Gliori. She has a picture book soon out, featuring a cat in Tobermory. The title will be Tobermory Cat. At least it will be if someone in Tobermory stops being unpleasant about it. Debi, who is one of the kindest and most fairminded people I know, has been accused of all manner of things by the ‘owner’ of the name. Not the owner of the cat, mind you.

The links to this public argument can be found on Wikipedia, so I might as well add them here. Link 1. Link 2Link 3 with a reply from publisher Hugh Andrew of Birlinn. TC even has its own facebook page, but I don’t recommend a trip there if you value your blood pressure levels.

I am really, really against bullying.

Apart from the books and coincidences above, I am reminded of another touristy cat at the opposite end of the country, in another picture book; The Mousehole Cat by Antonia Barber and Nicola Bayley. I imagine that book has not exactly damaged the tourist business for Mousehole. I also imagine this was the idea for Tobermory. The new book could have been called something else. And then the tourists could go there instead.

Co-operation is a good word here. Not that I’d want to co-operate with TC’s ‘owner’ if I had a choice, but before this argument began, just think of the effect they could have had together, for Tobermory.

Could there be more than one Bookwitch? Unfortunately, yes. There are. There were some before I went public, and more have popped up over the five years you and I have known each other. But the point about it is that I sat down and thought long and hard about what to call this blog, and once I’d arrived at the answer, I went online and found I wouldn’t be alone. But I am a Bookwitch, so couldn’t – wouldn’t – have picked another name.

I can co-exist.

Will leave you with one more cat. In fact, I give you a book idea for free. Here is the Linköping Lynx. At this point I must point out I’ve not checked* if there are any other LLs out there.

Linköping Lynx

The more the merrier? Surely one of the seven plots must fit? It’s my firm belief that Lynxes are the next big thing. Remember that some time in 2014 or 2015.

*Oops.

Who ‘fired’ first

Two of my most treasured books as a ten-year-old were a couple of Reader’s Digest children’s annuals. I am not blushing all that much admitting to this, because they meant a lot to me. I read them over and over again, and there was plenty of interesting stuff to find.

In one there was a puzzle to solve. It was the picture of a saloon mirror which had lots of bullet holes, and the clever marshall who went there to decide in which order the shots had been fired, could immediately work out the correct answer, based on how the cracks on the mirror were hemmed in by each other.

That’s pretty much the technique I used to decide which author had signed an anthology of mine.

Some years ago I had this crazy idea that I’d get my anthologies signed by as many of the participating authors as I could. What I hadn’t worked out was that I’d be getting more and more of them, so my task would simply grow too big.

I still cart collections of short stories around, especially when I know I’m likely to run into more than one potential signer. But generally speaking it’s a lost cause.

The volume I had in mind when I mentioned the shooting above, was one I looked at a while ago, several years after I’d done my carting around. Melvin Burgess was obvious. He signed first, so had taken up a lot of the available space. Tim Bowler was next, so there was plenty of room for him as well.

Then came Alan Gibbons, who also did all right. And after him I collared… Yeah, who did I find? I tried deciphering the signature and failed abyssmally. It was more a doodle than anything. In the end I needed to look at the index to see which of the authors I had met, and thereby might have signed. There was only one possibility.

With that thought I peeped at some of his other signed books, and I’d been right. How could I have forgotten Eoin Colfer’s autograph? And what did he (or anyone else) think of being offered only a tiny space in which to doodle?

It’s a weird hobby, but one I suspect I will continue pursuing, on and off. I once made up a list of my books and which authors, and which ones I’d had signed, in order to make my planning easier. I gave that up pretty swiftly. It was as hard to keep up with as my card system for knowing what’s in my large freezer.

Better to take pot luck in both cases.

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 #68

Thursday was a busy day for publishing. I started my reviewing early and I still haven’t finished reading the February books. It felt rather like a mini-October. Maybe it’s a post-Christmas glut of books, while we wait for the snow to melt. (I am so hoping there won’t be any, although the forecast is for a white weekend.)

A year ago Tim Bowler was ‘quite excited because next February OUP are going to issue the whole thing [Blade] as a four book series with different titles and a different look.’ I have to join Tim in that excitement, because I have in my hand (or as near as I can have while typing) a copy of the first new Blade, called Enemies. I read these when they were originally published, before time became a little short. I look forward to catching up with the remaining six parts (this time as three books), and I say this despite finding a quote from some Bookwitch in there. I am not biased.

Back to Tim; ‘I think some of my toughest writing is in there. I hope I don’t sound too pompous saying that, but it is as advanced as anything I’ve written. Without wanting to preach, I do feel it’s got something to say. It’s a massively topical issue, the whole thing about knives.’

Well away from knives at the other end of the plot spectrum we have Jacqueline Wilson and her new book, The Worst Thing About My Sister. I’m hoping to get to it any day now. Luckily I was able to see Daughter off the premises yesterday without her ‘borrowing’ it. Tim Bowler writes about knives, with no personal experience of them outside the kitchen (or so I’d like to think), and Jacqueline has no sister. I suppose they make it all up.

While we wait, here is a trailer for the book.

Hmm. Now I’m not so sure about sisters. What do you think? Worth having? I got most of this kind of behaviour from my best friend who lived next door. But at least she could ‘go home’ afterwards.

I’ll leave you with the history of librarians.

The Evolving Librarian

I am hoping the next step won’t be a blank space, but somebody inspiring, leading on to many more future librarians.