Tag Archives: Fletcher Moss

Not here you don’t

‘Would you like a different ending with that?’ Or how about a new first chapter?

Book publishing is hardly the same as ordering chips with your meal, instead of the boiled new potatoes. And still, publishers will insist on things being done their way. Sometimes that’s probably wise, because they have the experience. On the other hand, the author has the book in his or her head.

I remember Fletcher Moss being bemused by Chicken House telling him that his competition winning – first – novel had to be turned round quite drastically, to be publishable.

And now Cornelia Funke has been told the Americans need a different beginning to her new book, already published in Germany. Americans are a bit more cautious about what’s acceptable or not. But the book is already out there, and it’s not as if they were forced to buy Cornelia’s book.

So she’s self-publishing, which feels the last thing you’d expect someone like Cornelia having to do. But she’s lucky, because it seems she was handed back the rights to the entire series (the ‘problem’ is with the third book), thus enabling her to do this. Many authors struggle for years getting the rights back to their books, even when the publisher wants nothing more to do with it. Perhaps because she’s Cornelia Funke and not some minor, unknown writer?

Cornelia Funke

I think I have heard of novels where there are differences in other languages. But I trust only minor ones. I’m thinking of the discussion I had with my First Best Friend in our teens. Strangely enough we both liked the same band, and the same track too. Except we argued about what album the track was on. We were both right, of course. I’d bought my LP in London, and she hers in Sweden. The LPs were different. But I’d rather not have the same argument over how a novel ends; did they live happily ever after? Or not?

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Bookwitch bites #119

There are things happening in Scotland. Just saying.

They give books away, for one thing. The Scottish Book Trust are giving books to children, again. Five different categories, from baby to Primary 1. Three books each. I think that’s really good, and while I know I didn’t need it for Offspring, it would still have been nice.

More on the Scottish front, Malorie Blackman is coming for a four city tour; Inverness, Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh. I would love to catch up at one of these events, but it is a busy week at Bookwitch Towers.

Julie Bertagna has written a graphic novel, which is about time, since they were a major topic the day we first met, as she discussed cool stuff with Neil Gaiman. It’s called John Muir Earth – Planet, Universe, and because I haven’t yet had an opportunity to read it, I’ll say it’s a sort of green book. You can download it here, because – this is Scotland, again – they are giving it away to school children.

To prove this isn’t just about Scotland, here is the Branford Boase shortlist, which – as with all my recent reading – I have not got enough personal knowledge of to say very much about. Except that I wish them well, and let the best author win.

Winter Damage by Natasha Carthew, edited by Rebecca McNally
Infinite Sky by C.J. Flood, edited by Venetia Gosling
Wild Boy by Rob Lloyd Jones edited by Mara Bergman
Red Ink by Julie Mayhew, edited by Emily Thomas
Alex the Dog and the Unopenable Door by Montgomery Ross, edited by Rebecca Lee & Susila Baybars
The Poison Boy by Fletcher Moss, edited by Imogen Cooper and Barry Cunningham
Geek Girl by Holly Smale, edited by Lizzie Clifford

Murderous mug

You know, authors can do just about anything. The other day I carelessly mentioned that this mug doesn’t worry me. It would almost be an honour to be killed off in a book. Wouldn’t it? It’s fiction. You’d live afterwards. (You would, wouldn’t you?)

And I annoy better than most.

As I said, authors can do a lot of things. I have to admit to certain maternal pride over this:

Steve Cole, Aliens Stink

(I actually believe this is a book about me. I do wash regularly, but the alien-ness can’t be disputed.) It’s clearly a book to be dedicated to offspring, and I admire the lovely Steve Cole for his triple dedication, in one fell swoop.

Steve Cole, Aliens Stink

 

So I don’t think Aliens Stink. They are the best.

 

Notes from the editor

If you’ve never used an editor, you might not know what they do. To be perfectly honest I’m not 100% sure, either. But I might have a better understanding of the need for them than some. I remember what the editors on the Guardian used to do to my blog pieces for them. Some of it good; some infuriating annoying. It’s good to blog on my own here, where I can do as I like. But the paid blogging was good too. Getting paid. Reaching a larger or different audience.

(Can you tell I edit Bookwitch all the time? And still I have Offspring telling me there are two ‘thes’ or a missing possessive ‘s’ and all sorts of other stupid mistakes. I try not to kill them. I don’t always have a feel for what my readers will find interesting. I get things wrong. Assuming someone wanted to make a book from my blog posts; what do you reckon would happen? Are they ready to be printed straight as they are, or would they need endless editing? The former sounds nice and easy. The latter would make for a better product, but would also cease to be Bookwitch the book.)

As you know (if you’ve paid attention!) I get asked to read self-published books a lot. Some are book books, others ebooks or manuscript. Some are offered for possible review, others merely want an opinion. Some are seeking a ‘real’ publisher. Some are doing well, while others are not.

I seem to recall suggesting somewhere on here that people who can spell stand a better chance of hearing back from me. Some writers seem to feel that if they have indeed got the spelling and grammar right, then that’s all that’s needed.

It’s not. What – nearly – every writer needs, apart from the ability to be self-critical, is someone else to offer constructive criticism. Not nearly enough writers take this route. Or maybe they don’t specify that the husband, mother, neighbour or cousin should be truly critical. Not just say ‘that’s quite good, dear’ and let the writer continue in the belief that nothing needs changing.

Do you remember Fletcher Moss? He won the Chicken House competition a couple of years ago, and his published book was out last year. And it was very good. But, the place where Fletcher ended his story was where the editor suggested he had got about a third of the way, and he should write quite a bit more to make it a very different book. That didn’t mean Fletcher can’t write. He can. They, on the other hand, could see what might sell, or at least, sell better. If your neighbour isn’t Annie Eaton at Random, they will probably not know these things.

No one can see what goes on inside your head. You can, which is why what makes perfect sense to you, doesn’t always work when someone else reads your story. Is it even interesting to most people? Might it be a tad too encouraging of illegal or immoral behaviour? (I’m talking children’s books here.)

I know I like things to be smooth and lovely, and I still grind my teeth when there are lots of dreadful obstacles in a (published) book. I wish they didn’t need to happen. Except I know the obstacles are there to pave the way for improvements later. So, you need to have some bad stuff happening. Too smooth is ultimately boring.

A year ago I read someone’s manuscript, and the asked for criticism of what was a very good novel was taken extremely badly. In this case it was someone I don’t see in my daily life, but it was a lesson to be learned. I’m reading a surprisingly similar (in feel, not plot) MS at the moment. I have no need to say anything bad about it, but my heart beats faster, reminding me of last year.

In short (yeah, I know this wasn’t short at all), I may have to change to reading nothing outside mainstream publishing. Flak for money is all very well. Unsalaried flak is a different kettle of fish.

Chicken House at Cornerhouse

Not every book event can be reached by 19-minute train trips from the bottom of my garden. I almost wish they could. So, full marks to Chicken House for coming ‘up north’ in the first place, and second for picking that rather excellent watering hole Cornerhouse as their venue for breakfast on Thursday morning. Good and convenient.

Annexe at Cornerhouse

It was quite nice meeting authors there, too. Melvin Burgess, being one of our token Mancunians, I had not seen since our Christmas dinner, and newbie Fletcher Moss not since that coffee-less morning coffee a couple of months ago. They were the only advertised star turns, but there were more Chicken people present; a fact which had me resorting to stealing. (Sorry.)

Dan Smith

Fletcher introduced me to Dan Smith, whose book I had not thought to bring. So I sort of helped myself to another copy of My Friend the Enemy (out in July) in order that Dan could sign it. I had to lend him my pen – which he actually returned after some further borrowing – but at least he didn’t need to practise his signature. (By the time Fletcher had warned him that I’d head straight home to write all kinds of stuff about everyone, it was too late for Dan.)

That was one wonderful breakfast! I have rarely been so well fed at an event. By the time I’d checked out the double buns with sausages on Tony Higginson’s plate (did I mention Formby’s no. 1 bookseller was there?), I noticed Melvin and raised my camera to photograph him, which caused the poor man to pause his sausage bun eating… They had a veggie version too, meaning I could join in, and it was Very Delicious! (Now that I think about it, maybe it was Fletcher who had a double helping. Or someone.)

Melvin Burgess and Barry Cunningham

At this point Barry Cunningham started the chatshow, so the eating had to cease. First Barry told us why children’s books are so good. We knew that already. He mentioned the peculiar fact that it wasn’t raining. Apparently you can’t use the words sunshine and Manchester in the same sentence. Then he talked to Melvin about the background to The Hit, and after that Melvin read the first chapter. (He’d done some research into the willingness of teenagers to sleep with someone who was about to die a virgin…)

Fletcher Moss

Our second Mancunian was Fletcher, who talked about winning a book competition only to have to re-write the whole thing. He read the first chapter of Poison Boy, by which time I had liberated a chair to sit on, right at the back where I could do as I wanted.

Sam Hepburn

The third author was Sam Hepburn, who is a girl, despite the name. Sam writes what Barry wants most; crime for and about young people. I’ve had my copy of Chasing the Dark in my tbr pile for a while, and I knew I wanted to read it even before hearing Sam read a chapter to us. She told us her children thought she’d based the really horrible aunt character on herself!

Stuart Hill

Author no. four was former bookseller Stuart Hill, who wrote lots of – unpublished – books before finally sitting down to write the one he really wanted to write; the one no one would read anyway, so he could do what he wanted. And that’s the one Barry published. Apparently his prequel Prince of the Icemark happened because readers wanted to know what went before Cry of the Icemark. And you know, I don’t exactly love zombies and werewolves, but I liked what Stuart read. Even though I was under the impression he had a witch called Cadwallader. It turned out to be the cat.

David Massey

Dan Smith (about whose name I said some less than polite things, on account of it being a bit common) and David Massey were not there to read, but mingled nicely, and I helped myself to a copy of David’s book Torn.

Jake Hope's shoes

It was good to meet some new people, and nice to see old acquaintances like children’s books expert Jake Hope (wearing very snazzy shoes). I noticed from the un-claimed badges that I could have met up with even more old friends, and I hope they are now thoroughly regretting their absence from this culinary-literary event.

Chicken House breakfast

Then I went back for another of those sausagey things. I don’t know what I was thinking. Not only did it make my subsequent chat with Sam a little difficult, but it was very filling. As I stood staring at the cake selection, I realised just how filling. I ate a slab of carrot cake. Large piece, since it was the only size available. (I reasoned the icing made it impossible to smuggle home in a napkin.)

Cake, Cornerhouse

I witnessed someone else wrap a blueberry muffin (ginormous variety) to take home, so went to get a napkin to do the same thing, seeing as my earlier stealing of books had gone so well. Had barely touched the napkin when Tony demanded I take a photograph of him and some of his closest author pals. So I did.

Dan Smith, blogger Kate, Sam Hepburn, Tony Higginson and Fletcher Moss

Tina from Chicken House

As I got closer to the muffins again, I was waylaid by the lovely Tina who had organised the whole shebang, and we had a nice long chat, seeing as it was our first meeting in person. She was also vaguely thinking of pocketing muffins.

When I finally thought I was in the clear, Waterstones new events manager Louise came up to talk, while valiantly dealing with some carrot cake. So we talked events, we talked John Green – as you do – and books in general. Barry came up and discovered Louise had moved here from Reading, which is a most suitable place for someone involved with books. (Even when you know how to pronounce it correctly.)

Barry Cunningham

With Barry’s blessing I finally helped myself to the muffin, while he apologised for having said bad things about the Mancunian weather. Which was when I happened to glance at my watch, realising I had just enough time to catch my train home so I could make dinner. There was a Resident IT Consultant who needed feeding.

I – on the other hand – didn’t.

Meeting Fletcher Moss

I suppose it’s safer this way. Instead of Poison Boy author Fletcher Moss coming to Bookwitch Towers for coffee, he has opted to meet us on neutral ground. Sensible man. You never know when someone will next want to poison you. Not giving away his real name, is another thing. Fletcher is assistant head at a local school, and wants to ‘keep it secret.’ I’m not sure this is possible, or even necessary. Pupils ought to love having a real live author for their English teacher. Someone who knows their stuff.

(For any Mancunian who has already thought that the name Fletcher Moss sounds familiar – but odd – it’s because he’s taken the name of a park in Didsbury. The park in turn, was named after Alderman Fletcher Moss, and the new Fletcher says he wants to pay homage to the old one.)

Fletcher Moss

However, the neutral ground idea backfires when it turns out that the Waterstones coffee machine is broken. As for choosing his name, Fletcher has worked out this could have been a mistake, too. His books will have to sit next to Michael Morpurgo’s… You should always think ahead.

(That’s what I did the night before, putting the book where I’d remember to take it with me in the morning. In the morning it wasn’t there. After giving the matter some thought, I worked out the Resident IT Consultant must have ‘borrowed’ it. He had. I borrowed it back.)

As the photographer and I stand in the café searching for a brand new author-cum-teacher poison expert, Fletcher – at least we think it’s him – appears, pushing an empty pushchair, and asks if we are who he’s meeting. We say we think so, and he goes off to find drinks that aren’t coffee. The pushchair belongs to young Miss Moss who has wandered off to discover new picture books with Mrs Moss while we talk with Dad. (I gather The Worst Princess found favour.)

While the photographer stirs the tea, Fletcher thanks me for my review of The Poison Boy, and I say how relieved I was to find I liked it, having worried about what I’d do if I hated the book. And then I ask about everything there is to do with winning competitions and turning into an author, and all the work that comes with it.

Fletcher Moss

For one thing, Chicken House have had Fletcher change a lot about the book. They loved the end, but felt it was in the wrong place. (It now comes about a third into the story.) He had too many characters. It was a case of simplify, simplify. The politics had to go. Fletcher couldn’t help wondering how he won the competition, with so much editing being necessary. But he says the first chapter was always the first chapter. And he found he had been rather too fond of the word ‘caked.’ At one point it was absolutely everywhere.

Although, after ending his book with a cliffhanger, Fletcher has had second thoughts about whether there will be a sequel. He’s got ‘one or two ideas that [he’s] quite excited about’ and he does like Eyesdown as a character. There could be a book about him.

Fletcher is very happy with the support he’s had from his publisher, and is more than a little impressed to have spoken after Melvin Burgess at a recent Chicken House launch. Fletcher once organised a school trip to Preston to hear Melvin talk, and here they were, as equals…

Combining the ‘assistant heading’ and teaching with writing and editing a book sounds like gruelling work, and he says ‘you need to be so disciplined.’ Fletcher wrote the book by doing 1500 words every Sunday for a year. He goes to a writing group one evening a week. In between he thinks about what he will write when he next sits down at his computer. He reckons he’s a 65,000 word book kind of writer.

At the end of our chat I ask Fletcher to sign my copy of The Poison Boy. He looks a little embarrassed and explains he’ll need to practise on something first, just so he knows what he’s doing. I offer my note pad and after a bit of scribbling; ‘I’ve got it nailed!’ (On the off-chance that Barry Cunningham has indeed found the successor to J K Rowling, I will hang on to the piece of paper. Might pay for a new kitchen one day.)

‘I want the book to be a success’ he says, before we take him down to the children’s books department and stand him where he belongs. Next to Morpurgo.

Fletcher Moss

Bookwitch bites #103

Close encounters.

Daughter had a busy Friday. Not only was she expected to do normal lectures, but I had said she’d be better off travelling ‘home’ that day and not waste all Saturday on a train. Not that time on a train is wasted. Then they (uni) decided to serve up a lecture by Chris Lintott Friday morning, and not content with a mere lecture, she acted on the insanity that runs in our family and requested an interview.

So, that was one tall, famous person. Once on the train she phoned to tell me her favourite children’s illustrator was sitting further along in the same coach. I told her to go talk to him. She phoned back later to say she chickened out. I said, was she sure it was him? She said there can’t be too many men carrying a Tracy Beaker bag. She’s probably right. So that was tall man number two.

Then she arrived ‘home’ and after barely any sleep, I forced her to travel on another train, all the way to Manchester, early Saturday morning. It was time for encounter number three. (We only have a week. Much has to be crammed into it.)

We had arranged to meet Fletcher Moss in the café at Waterstones Deansgate. It’s quite fun arranging to meet a pseudonym somewhere public. We allowed this man who came up to say he was meeting someone there to buy us a pot of tea. It seemed like more than a coincidence. He was probably ‘Fletcher.’

He was tall, but not as tall as the other two.

There will be more on Lintott & Moss another day. (They’d make good solicitors.)

The Poison Boy

It begins with an unpleasant death, continues with a chase, followed by a little nudity. From then on you just want to read and read.

I’ve been a wee bit cynical about writing competitions to find new talent, but I have to admit to being wrong very occasionally. Fletcher Moss and his debut novel The Poison Boy are more than worthy winners of last year’s Times children’s fiction competition.

Fletcher Moss, The Poison Boy

This is close to being a perfect book. The plot, featuring a boy who tastes food ‘for a living’ is unusual and refreshing. Perhaps the adventure that follows the death by poison on the first page is a familiar one, but it’s executed so well and it makes for extremely pleasurable reading.

The characters are interesting, and the world in which they live is just that little bit different from other historical fantasies. Nothing outlandish, but simply very satisfying. Just how I like my reading!

Dalton Fly is the poison boy who survives, and he and his colleague Sal Sleepwell work to find out what – and who – killed their friend Bennie. Rich girl Scarlet Dropmore ends up helping them, and soon they are racing against time to save more lives, while trying to understand why all this is happening in their city.

It’s a fascinating subject, this poison business. You take a little poison regularly, the better to survive when you accidentally eat too much of it, for someone else. But it’s still pretty gruesome.

There is a pleasing symmetry to the plot, and there will have to be a sequel, but even that didn’t upset me. I’m looking forward to it, especially because Fletcher left us hanging in mid-air so elegantly.