Tag Archives: Amanda Craig

Don’t pay? Won’t come!

Whereas I quite like the idea of Philip Pullman perusing his daily Bookwitch and taking my New Year’s post to heart, if I’m to be realistic, he probably came up with his new stance without my help.

But I’m glad that someone like Philip has decided enough’s enough, and that he is speaking out against festivals who don’t pay. Then there was Amanda Craig’s letter in the Bookseller, which collected a good number of signatures. It’s not enough for someone in the kind of income bracket who really needs to be paid to say they’d like money instead of ‘exposure,’ as no one much listens to ‘unknowns’ with not a lot of money behind them.

It’s a shame that the Oxford Literary Festival and Philip are having to part ways over this, but it sounds as if he tried discussing it with them. And I do understand that money might be short. But if none of the other categories of people who work for the festival do so unpaid, the question is why authors should give their time for free. They wrote the books. Yes, they will – hopefully – sell a good number after their event, but what do they get? 50p per paperback sold?

There are reasons for appearing somewhere for free, but it should be by choice, and after some serious thinking about why. (I ought to declare myself here. I once bribed an author to come for train fare only, but the bribe I offered has yet to be taken. I suspect it won’t, but it was all I had. I have also asked two authors to come to my house for a private event. I offered to pay on both occasions. One, the author was happy to come for free, if the indie bookshop was allowed to sell books. The second didn’t happen as the author was unavailable.)

Some time in the past I suggested that authors need to belong to a union, but that it would most likely be a difficult and awkward thing to arrange. But perhaps the time has come. ‘Don’t just agree, organise!’ as Joe Hill never said.

What Five Children and It Did Next

My first event on Monday was learning more about Kate Saunders and her much praised book Five Children on the Western Front, which won last year’s Costa. I’ve not read it yet, nor do I know the Edith Nesbit original stories all that well. I read some, but it was a long time ago.

Kate wrote this sequel to Nesbit’s books for the anniversary of WWI last year. She had long ago worked out that those children were just the right age to be caught up in the war that Nesbit didn’t know about when she created their idyllic, magic, free childhood.

Kate Saunders

As a child Kate felt that E Nesbit spoke directly to her, and she reckons that the author ‘put all the seeds down’ and she simply wrote her book, based on what was already there. Kate’s own teenage son died a few years ago, so she feels the far too early loss of young people very strongly.

She had plans for whom to kill off, but at least one character was saved by book reviewer Amanda Craig, who forced her to rethink. And in Monday morning’s school event, it appears Kate managed to make chair Daniel Hahn cry, which just goes to show how books can affect people.

Writing your last letter home, for if you don’t survive the war, features in Kate’s book (this was the moment my first pen decided it had had enough). She said it’s ‘outrageous that young people are sent away to be killed’ and she found that using magic in her story meant that it wasn’t all about life on the home front, but she was able to let the younger children see what went on in the trenches, while they were trying to help the Psammead.

The one thing that doesn’t translate well to a new book like this is the way Nesbit treated servants. She was very un-pc, and Kate has made a point of being nice and kind to ‘her’ servants, in whatever accents you get.

The audience in the Writers Retreat were fairly young, but they had nevertheless read both Kate’s book and the Nesbit ones, and they came up with some really excellent questions. Kate told them she began writing at nine, and that in twenty years’ time it could very well be one of them who would be talking at the book festival.

On the subject of dramatisations of novels, she feels it’d be hard to get in there and beat War Horse. This former actress once had to pay her son to come to the theatre with her.

Kate had to work hard at not revealing who dies in her book, or the fates of any of the characters. The children kept asking, though. And with war you just can’t have anything but a sad ending. It can’t be avoided. The thing for Kate was that there should be kindness, and there’s a strong sense of right and wrong.

There will be no more sequels of other people’s books for a while now. She wanted her book to be true to the feeling of Edith Nesbit. She compared it to considering rewriting the New Testament, which is something you just wouldn’t do.

Generally Kate doesn’t know what the end will be until she gets there. It’s ‘better to make it up as you go along.’ She needs a good start and then she has to have a shape that she strives for. After that she might rip up chapters (computer fashion) to make her book better.

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.