Tag Archives: Anne Rooney

On editors

The frequency with which I mutter things like ‘the editor should have caught that’ is increasing. From reading only for pleasure, it seems I can no longer ignore what should have been fixed before that book made it out into the world. And I rarely blame the author, now that I’ve discovered editors.

But they are only human. And sometimes young, and new to the job. Someone needs to show them the ropes. These days it appears as if rope-showing is increasingly rare in the workplace. Thank god for Anne Rooney. I’d happily have her show me any kind of rope she can think of.

This week I’ve been in full admiration mode for Anne’s blog post on what a good editor should know, and it has far less to do with catching spelling errors than treating writers like Anne so well that they will want to write another book for them. It seems writers are also human beings, and their weekends are of a similar length to those of the editor’s.

Do click through and read this. Even if you have no need for this type of advice, it is a masterpiece of writing; a kind of rope-showing that no one could possibly argue with.

It’s a shame that the piece had to be written at all, but a blessing that it’s Anne who did it, and not some vindictive shrew. Like me.

Oooh, look at Anne Rooney!

What better way of celebrating National Non-Fiction November could there be but to ‘speak’ to Anne Rooney, and to learn a few new facts about this tireless non-fiction writer, who would scare me witless with her ability were it not for the fact that she is very funny, and very kind.

Anne Rooney

For information, yours is probably the best and most amusing author’s website I’ve come across. And that’s really quite upsetting, for me. Could you possibly give us a very brief summary of who you are, anyway? Feel free to reply with a simple ‘yes.’

Polymath – which is not a mathematical parrot, though both maths and birds are involved. I think I’m a kind of information magpie. I pick out all the shiny, fascinating snippets of fact that float around and try to make them into interesting collages which publishers prefer to call books. That’s not what you meant, is it?

I write stuff – pretty much anything that’s up for being written, really. Fiction for children, and non-fiction for children and adults. I like writing for children best, but it’s hardest. I think on some level I must be deeply stupid in a commercial sense, as I most like writing for children who don’t want to read. Write books for people don’t want books. Yeah. Good plan. And then there’s the me that lives in the Far-from-United State of Domestic Chaos, fails to go to the opera/theatre/cinema often enough, struggles to spend enough time seeing friends, and spends far too many happy hours playing with the local baby and her plastic phoenix and peasant.

I think of you as the mistress of non-fiction writing. Am I right?

Pretty much, I guess. I do tell lies sometimes, though. But if I spend too long writing only fiction I feel ungrounded. There’s only so long you can spend with imaginary people before it gets to you. That’s why so many fiction-writers walk dogs, bake cakes and make changes to their houses – they need to engage with real stuff.

I don’t think you can write non-fiction unless you are genuinely excited by the world and still feel a sense of wonder at discovering new things. People sometimes ask me how they can get into writing non-fiction because they aren’t making enough money doing whatever they are currently doing (usually writing fiction). That’s not really going to work; you might get a couple of book contracts that way, but you won’t be successful (=happy). You might make a living but you won’t make a life.

You have written a very large number of non-fiction books, and I have read only one of them, The Story of Physics. It was very good. In what way is that typical, or not, of your writing?

It’s about half typical, I suppose. It’s atypical in that it’s for adults, whereas most of my books are for children. But it’s typical in that it’s fairly wide-ranging and it has a light, informal tone. What I aim to do in all my books is make interesting information accessible and to show that it’s interesting. That sounds very formal. All my books are, basically, variations on ‘Oooh, look at this!’

And how many books have you written?

Oh dear. I always say ‘about 150’, largely because I gave up keeping a database of them but Amazon was an unreliable guide. I’ve been saying that for a few years, though. My Amazon count has just dropped from about 400 to 198, so I’m going to assume that’s because they have stopped counting duplicates and so it’s accurate. That includes some that aren’t quite out yet, but let’s go with 198.

Should we read more non-fiction?

Yes, we should – but only if we want to. I suppose I mean we should want to read more non-fiction. Actually people spend a lot of time reading non-fiction – in newspapers, magazines, on the web, and so on. Unfortunately, rather too much of it is about which celebrities are sleeping with each other, which is of no importance unless one of them is you.

I despise the faux-pride some people take in not knowing things – being proud of their ignorance of science or supposed inability to do any maths. Being ignorant is not something to be proud of. But nor is it something to be ashamed of – it’s an opportunity to learn something.

What kind of books do you like best?

What kind of books do I like best? That’s a very difficult question as I like lots of kinds of books! I’m currently reading The Woman in White (Wilkie Collins), a 17th-century German picaresque ‘novel’ called Simplicius Simplicissimus, and a book about economics (that’s work, but it’s interesting). But I also love picture books, and books about science, and books about – well, anything interesting. I like books that are clever but not arrogant. There are whole swathes of books I don’t like at all but I won’t mention them because it’s a personal taste thing and some of my friends write those kinds of books, and I wouldn’t want to upset anyone.

It seems you have so many books on the go at any one time that you forget; either that it’s being published today, or what your deadline is, or even that you wrote the book in the first place. I suppose I can’t ask you how long it takes you to write a book, but how long on average does it take you to write 1000 words?

You are being very diplomatic; you have seen my Facebook updates!

How long it takes to write a thousand words depends on which thousand words it is. Sometimes, it will take several days to write 1,000 words. Other times it will take a couple of hours. I type at about 55 wpm, so the quickest is, I suppose, about 20 minutes. But some of them will be the wrong words and need changing, so no less than 90 mins, I guess. But writing isn’t the time-consuming bit – research takes longer. If I’m writing a book that takes a lot of research, those 1,000 words can take a week. If I’m writing a story that doesn’t need much research, it can be right in an hour, or it can take months.

And how long is your average book, if there is such a thing?

Which kind of average? Median? Mean? I’m going to say about 7,000 words. But the shortest are 300 and the longest 80,000.

Do you have to pitch ideas for books, or do publishers now come to you and say they need a short book on Swedish book bloggers?

The latter. I have to write three books about Swedish book bloggers this month. Actually, I am so busy writing books publishers have asked for I hardly ever get time to pitch ideas. And that makes me sad, as there are some books I want to write that I can’t see I will get round to until there is another recession.

Is there a work of non-fiction by someone else you wish you had written?

Animalium, by Katie Scott and Jenny Broom, because it’s beautiful. Otherwise, Velcro Cows by Martyn Warren but I’m not sure it is non-fiction because most of it isn’t true. No – I’ve changed my mind: Montaigne’s Essais.

Do you ever use a pseudonym? Maybe it was really you?

I have done. But obviously I’m not going to tell you what it was. I have also threatened to when a publisher majorly screwed up a book. I said I wanted my name taken off it, and suggested a pseudonym – something like Clytemnestra Sponge – that would signal that it was not a real name. They saw through it, realised I was ridiculing the book, and the uber-editor, to her credit, worked through the night to restore my original text the day before it was due to go to press. But that’s not a normal state of affairs…

You seem to have a tremendous work ethic, always working, always a book to finish. How long is your working day, or week? And do you take holidays?

There is no routine day. Some weeks I end up doing 50 or 60 hours and other weeks only 20, but on average I work a normal number of hours. I did a quick calculation for the first half of the year and I worked an average of 38 hours a week (so no holidays or sick time in that). I don’t go on holidays much at the moment, but that’s because of domestic issues. But I’ve just got back from Northern Ireland where I was visiting my daughter (Big Bint).

The best thing about your job?

I don’t have to do things I really don’t want to do – I can just turn them down. And if there is something I really do want to do, I can do it and call it work. If I can’t sell it later, it was just a bad commercial decision, not skiving.

The worst?

Sometimes there is a project I really want to do and I can’t do it immediately as I’ve not got a contract for it and I need to earn money. And sometimes there will be a really good project and someone else in the process messes it up and I get disenchanted and don’t like it any more. And then I have to give it to Clytemnestra Sponge, who should have quite a body of bad books to her name by now…

Is there anything else you’d want to do for a living?

What else would I do? Something that combines history and science – medical archaeology, probably. Since I opted out of being a real academic, I can write about those things but not actually do the real research. That’s a shame. I don’t like only dealing in secondhand information all the time. I can do real research and I miss it.

How did this happen in the first place? I could see it might fit in well with bringing up children.

I’ve never worked for someone – you know, officially, doing as I’m told and turning up – except for weekend/holiday jobs as a teen and student. I had a part-time flexi-time job for 15 hours a week for a while when I was finishing my PhD, but they didn’t mind if I did all my hours in the middle of the night, so that doesn’t really count. I couldn’t really see any attraction in doing as I was told and spending hours a day getting to an office where some of the people would be unpleasant and some of the work I would have to do would be boring. I had an academic job briefly and decided that wasn’t what I wanted, and since writing was something I could do, I did that. I tried out lots of sorts of writing before settling on writing for children. Journalism was my least favourite – it seemed so pointless writing things that would just be thrown away a few days later. (This was before web archives!)

My rather weird working hours evolved when I was a single parent trying to work when my children weren’t around, so very early in the mornings, during school hours, and when they were in bed. And the times they went to their dad’s house, so that meant working weekends and long hours in parts of the school holiday.

I have a feeling that you also teach and/or have university related tasks. What, exactly? How much time do you spend on each?

The last three summers I have run a summer school programme in creative writing with Brian Keaney at Pembroke and King’s Colleges in Cambridge. It’s part of the Pembroke-King’s Summer Programme. Most of our students are undergraduates from the USA. It runs for eight weeks. This year I’m Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Newnham College, Cambridge, which is two-and-a-half days a week during term time. I’ve been RLF fellow at other universities in the past, but it tends to be one or two years on and then two years off, so some years I don’t do any university work at all. RLF Fellows don’t teach a course – they help students with academic writing, in any discipline. It’s very rewarding and a challenge. Sometimes I’ll have a chemical engineering PhD thesis to look at, followed by an essay about some aspect of the Hebrew Bible, and then an anthropology dissertation on a tribe in Bolivia… You have to be intellectually agile!

Do you have a next book? I mean, is that even possible?

You mean next coming out or next to write? I don’t write only one at once. I’m working on a Gothic novel for 9-11s, just finishing a book about inventions (8-10), starting a GCSE guide to Jekyll and Hyde and doing The Story of Maps (adult). There’s also a picture book that needs sending to my agent and a couple of adult books I’m writing outlines for that I don’t think have been announced yet. Next out is, I think, Space Record Breakers from Carlton, which is out some time early this month. It might be out already, I’m not sure.

Finally, who plays you in The Life of Rooney?

Probably a muppet… Rowlf?

I should really have got you to ask the questions, shouldn’t I?

They wouldn’t have been very sensible if I’d asked them!

Now, hasn’t this made you want to read those 198 books? (And I must point out I’m really good at maths. And exo-planets. I should also have realised that Anne would ask things like ‘mean or median?’ and given her a proper question from the start. I blame that Clytemnestra.)

National Non-Fiction November

Pies

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.

Bookwitch bites #114

Well, wasn’t that a week stacked to the gills with reviews of some of the excellent books published on the 5th? Don’t spread them out. Just send them in our direction all at once. Spacing your reading is so last century.

And Sophie Hannah is the new Agatha Christie. Will be. Sort of. Sophie is the latest in the recent trend of asking living authors to step into the shoes of their late colleagues. And whereas Agatha Christie did finish Miss Marple off, I think Hercule Poirot managed to avoid having a last case. Although, he is dreadfully old, even if we don’t bring him into the 21st century. Very pleased for Sophie, who writes extremely well. I look forward to seeing what she can do with the old French, oops, sorry, Belgian detective. (Maybe she’ll be less scary. Than her usual self, I mean.)

No sooner had Daughter and I returned from our travels, overseeing The New Window, but Mrs Pendolino called in to deal with hair that had grown too long. She’s on her way to Vegas, which apparently is the place to go this year.

Once shorn, we opened our doors to Botany Girl and Rhino Boy, who called in on their way past Bookwitch Towers, having inspected some scout hut or other. They weren’t going to Vegas. The Northwest – our Northwest – is good enough for them.

I have known Botany Girl for almost as long as I have known the Resident IT Consultant. I’ve not seen so much of her, however, so it was nice of her to remember my proximity to the scout hut. Rhino Boy I’d only met the once, over ten years ago. He wasn’t sure he’d met Daughter, but she was able to tell him what he had for dinner that evening (and somehow he knew she was right. It was a Quattro Stagioni…).

Before regaling us with tales of stuff that all happened when we were all less old than we are now, Rhino Boy looked round the room and his gaze fastened on Anne Rooney’s The Story of Physics. So I let him have a little look. Seems he knows about Physics. He also wanted the inside story on Stieg Larsson. (As if I’d know anything about that.)

Botany Girl and I agreed that it is possible to have a satisfactory quality of life even without advanced Maths, and I forgot to remind her I still owe her a session of washing up.

And I suppose now it’s back to ‘normal’ for maybe a week…

… and rock ‘n’ roll

This week we’ve mentioned the sex, and the alcohol. That leaves the rock ‘n’ roll. Wine, women and song. All bad stuff.

There’s so much music in novels these days. Perhaps there always was, and I’ve been deaf and blind. Adrian McKinty (yes, him again) puts lots of music in his books. Sergeant Duffy listens to a wide repertoire. He’s a bit of a show-off, that Duffy.

In Adrian’s YA novel The Lighthouse Keepers, which I’ve read but not yet reviewed, the young main character raves about music. Not so sure he’s not too precocious in his musical taste, but never mind.

Might be an Irish thing? When I first ran into John Connolly – outside the Ladies, before an event, and before he knew who I was – he pressed a CD into my hands. I gather he listens to a selection of music each time he writes a book, and those tracks end up belonging to that particular novel.

I added John’s favourites to my iTunes, and every time a track I can’t identify pops up on shuffle, I can be certain it’s one of his. I only added the CD because it contained a Lee Hazlewood track. I used to be a great fan.

A Jodi Picoult novel from a couple of years ago also included a CD. I passed the book and CD on to someone else, while making sure I put the tracks into iTunes first. I like them a lot.

It can be inspiring having an author’s choice of music for when you read. But what if you don’t like the music that helped them write? If every time the characters play their favourite tracks, you just can’t stand the music? Would you rather do without it?

Rather like when you find out which actor inspired someone’s character. If it’s the ‘wrong’ actor, you’ll have to quickly re-imagine them as someone you’d prefer. (Nobody tell me their heroine was inspired by that Keira woman! I’d have to burn your book.)

Music is an age thing, too. Adrian – again – is the wrong age for me. He doesn’t pick the music I listen to, nor the stuff forced on me – I mean, made available to me – by Offspring. I have a whole decade, that’s been almost completely blacked out. (When Son did a GCSE project on a decade in pop music, he was given the 1980s. Naturally. And we could offer no help.)

It’s not only the music behind a book, or the albums enjoyed by a fictional character. The whole book can be based on music. Obviously. Recently Son translated extracts from a couple of music based novels written by a Norwegian author. That was 20,000 words featuring an opera and all the backstage stuff. Luckily it was a made-up opera, so it ended up being less of a fact checking nightmare.

And we get YA books about pop groups, and wannabes. With the current talent programme epidemic on television we will probably end up with many more of them. It beats vampires, though.

Although having said that, I seem to recall that one of Anne Rooney’s vampires played in a band.

And Elvis lives.

Vampire Dawn

I know you felt safe from vampires over here, but there is no such thing as safe. And this new vampire series by Anne Rooney is no safe, pale, veggie kind of vampire series. Anne might count herself veggie, but it’s been a long time since I encountered so much blood in books. I’d recommend not reading and eating at the same time.

Intelligently written, with humour – and blood – and exciting and dangerous, this is a series of easy to read books for older readers. Seven books in total. You have to start with Die Now or Live Forever. It’s where the five teenagers Finn, Juliette, Omar, Ruby and Alistair go camping in the woods in Hungary. Almost before they can say ‘bat’ they have turned into vampires, much to everyone’s surprise.

The next five books are one for each teenager, and can be read in any order, as they don’t have much to do with the others after ‘the change.’ You find out what their lives are like afterwards. Not that they have much of a life, some of them.

There is blood. Did I say? And the books are quite scary in places. I think I found Drop Dead Gorgeous the hardest to digest. There is an aspie vampire, naturally. And all the teenagers encounter some famous people that we have erroneously believed to be long dead. Undead is what they are.

Anne Rooney, Vampire Dawn

Once you have covered In Cold Blood, Every Drop of your Blood, Life Sucks and Dead on Arrival, you can study the very useful Bloodsucking for Beginners.

Anne has evidently done a lot of research. I know she is brainy and all that, but I hadn’t realised it was possible to research vampirism.

And all that blood…

Higgs Force

I just knew the day would come. And here it is!

I have given the Resident IT Consultant permission to review a book for me. All will become clear if you read on. It’s the kind of book I’m not as qualified to review as I’d like to be. I know I covered Anne Rooney’s Physics book a while back, but this one takes me out of my comfort zone. And when I saw how eagerly the poor man grabbed hold of Higgs Force by Nicholas Mee, I came to the conclusion it would be a kindness to let him write a review.

My impression is that this is a really interesting book. It’s just that I couldn’t say anything relevant or intelligent even if I tried. (In order to possibly gain advantages of some sort, other family members have hinted I might just understand it.)

“Higgs Force is clearly designed (or at least, titled) to capitalise on the interest surrounding the impending confirmation of the existence of the Higgs particle. Although it devotes relatively little space to the work of Peter Higgs and the Higgs particle, this is not a weakness as it provides a well-written and clearly explained overview of the way in which our understanding of the fundamental forces in nature has developed over the last two thousand years. I very much enjoyed reading it.

Popular books on complex scientific concepts can approach their subject in two different ways; they can focus on human interest, describing people and incidents linked to the concept, or they can try to explain the science and how it has developed. Many popular science books today completely ignore the science. Others, like Simon Singh’s book on Fermat’s Last Theorem or Anne Rooney’s The Story of Physics give roughly equal weight to both. Nicholas Mee’s book concentrates mainly on the context and development of the science, with much less attention paid to the background and personalities of the individuals involved.

The book is well illustrated throughout. It provides a very readable account of developments in our understanding of natural forces, how these have led to our current view of fundamental particles and the role of symmetry in our understanding of the universe. Readers without any formal training in Physics will probably need a certain amount of intellectual curiosity and determination to complete it but I believe they will find it rewarding. It might be particularly suitable as preliminary reading for those intending to study Physics at university.”

And there you have it. Not our normal bookwitch fare but quite intriguing all the same. I suspect that Daughter is about to launch another review of the book over at her place, one of these days. Isn’t it nice when the generations grapple over a book?