Tag Archives: Sally Gardner

Cracking the Reading Code

You can’t hear enough about getting children – or even old people – to read, especially if they have extra obstacles to deal with. Well, I can’t, anyway. And I’d already heard the background stories of Tom Palmer, Sally Gardner and Alex Wheatle, but they can do with being repeated. Often. Until everyone who wants to can read.

Sally Gardner, Tom Palmer and Alex Wheatle

The three guests were ably interviewed by Mairi Kidd in Tuesday’s event hosted by Barrington Stoke, where she used to work. She knows about this business of dyslexia friendly books. And so do the three; with Tom probably having written the most books for Barrington Stoke, Sally being the most dyslexic while still writing the the most wonderful stories, and Alex for knowing what his readers know.

Tom Palmer

I do like the sound of Tom’s mother, getting him to read by giving him books and articles on football. And then he went to night school where he was supposed to read Shakespeare and Chaucer! It wasn’t until a tutor introduced him to poetry about Leeds United (!), and took students out to the actual ‘Wuthering Heights’ that Tom felt he could get on with this reading.

Sally Gardner

Not sure I like the sound of Sally’s school for maladjusted children (whose fault is it if children are maladjusted?), but at 14 when she tried reading Wuthering Heights for the second time and she suddenly was ‘in the f***ing book,’ things changed for her. As Sally said, you can be good at something and it needn’t be only academic for it to matter. We need ‘diversity in the brain.’

And Alex, who did read a bit as a child, from Huckleberry Finn and Ivanhoe to sports books, finally discovered books in jail at the age of 18. His cellmate, and mentor, gave him The Black Jacobins to read, as he ‘wouldn’t have anything better to do in there.’

Alex Wheatle

Asked to read to us, Alex again chose the bit from Kerb Stain Boys about being in detention, and this time it was Sally who asked if he reads his own audio books. And after Sally had treated us to a dyslexic pirate in Mr Tiger, Betsy and the Sea Dragon, Alex returned the compliment. Sally does have a great voice. Last but not least, Tom read from Armistice Runner, which is close to his heart, featuring both running and fells, and it still makes me cry.

Mairi asked the three about graphic novels; if they make reading easier. Sally mentioned Shaun Tan, and the ‘most genius book ever,’ which has no words at all. Both Alex and Tom were fans of Shoot Magazine, but understandably Sally’s not. Talking about Tom’s novel Scrum, and the revelation it brought a young boy at a school; ‘Miss, I can read this!’

Sally gets angry when people say to those who have listened to an unabridged novel as an audio book, that they ‘haven’t really read it.’ This is snobbery. She suggested to someone in the audience that if the can get a certificate from their GP that their child is dyslexic, then they have the right to access audio books for the blind and partially sighted.

The last question of the evening was not a question but a thank you, from a teacher who uses these books in her school. And it seems that Scotland might be better in this instance, not having reading rules, which means that teachers can let the children read anything, even if it’s not from the right part of a reading scheme. (This brings back dreadful memories of Son being forced to read ‘backwards’ so as not to rock the boat of equality.)

We then gathered in the bookshop where people were so keen to continue talking about this important subject, that poor Tom was unable to sit down at the signing table for quite some time.

This is what we like.

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Sky falling

Discovered someone was sitting in ‘my’ seat in the Corner theatre for the event with Sophie Cameron and Sally Gardner. But I can be flexible, if I really have to.

Sally and Sophie’s books are both about people falling out of the sky. Sally was looking for what it is that makes us human; what we have that aliens don’t. It’s love. Sophie, on the other hand, had been inspired by the falling angels in an old deodorant commercial.

Sally kicked off by reading from My Side of the Diamond, and I was reminded again of what a great voice she has.

Sally Gardner and Sophie Cameron

From there the discussion went on to Sally’s dyslexia, and then back to how she came to start writing in the first place. It was the bailiffs. And you can’t argue with that. If you need money, you need to find a way to earn some. Sally’s first book came about with ease, as did the way it was accepted for publication. (Something to do with a Sainsbury’s carrier bag with a hole in it…) But after the first time, it’s not been quite such smooth sailing.

Asked if she prefers a certain age group, Sally said no, and that she has now written an adult book. Although she does feel that younger readers are more intelligent than adults.

Then it was the turn of Dick King-Smith fan Sophie to read from her debut novel Out of the Blue, which is set in Edinburgh, during the festival. Originally set elsewhere, Sophie changed this when she returned to work in Edinburgh and realised that there aren’t a lot of books set there. Her second, standalone novel, also has an Edinburgh setting. And somewhere in all this there might have been talking dolphins.

Both books have a black main character, and this led to some discussion as to whether white authors are allowed to write about black people, which Sally finds worrying. Also, there are not enough translated books, and after March next year she reckons other countries will not want ‘our’ books.

Chair Lucy Popescu had an author mother, who always put her in her books, so she wondered if Sally and Sophie have done that. Sally said her children would have killed her if she had.

Sally Gardner and Sophie Cameron

It’s important to bring boys up to read books by and about women, and Sally mentioned her favourite heroine, Daisy in Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now. In some cases it seems that statistics on who reads might be incorrect, as boys don’t want to say they do. Sally had a story about a school where pupils were not allowed to read on their phones. One boy was caught doing so, but was nearly forgiven when the teacher discovered he was reading Dickens. But the boy insisted on the punishment of being expelled, rather than have his reading habits made public. He enjoyed books, but wanted to stay cool by reading on his mobile like everyone else.

So, books can be a very private thing for many.

Asked about fan fiction, Sophie said she’d written some. It’s good practice, and you get feedback on your writing. Sally used to tell herself stories [before she could read] and tried to see if she could make herself cry. She sees all her stories as films in her head, and until recently believed that this happened to everyone. When writing I, Coriander, she listened to the story as though it was radio.

Sophie is happiest writing in cafés, while Sally has adopted a rescue dog who insists on sitting on its favourite chair, forcing her to stay and write in the same room.

And apart from a drunk giraffe and a Rupert Bear with tits, that was pretty much it.

My day 2 of the 2018 EIBF

Thank goodness for favourite publicists! They have a way of making a witch feel better. Just before leaving Charlotte Square on Tuesday afternoon I went to Lindsey Davis’s signing, and no slight intended for this amusing and successful crime writer, but I popped by to say hello to Kerry Hood. We chatted, she asked after Offspring – all these many years later! – and we sort of competed on who was the oldest and most confused of us.

We both won.

After discovering I had a problem with my book on the train to Edinburgh (it was too short. The book. Not the train), my day started with a woman on the bus who was not prepared for what you do on buses, which is pay, and to have your purse standing by to do it with. That cost me the photocall with Frank Cottrell Boyce. Oh well. I got to see him at his event.

Frank Cottrell Boyce

Ate my Three-Men-in-a-Boat cheese sandwich watching Chris Close photograph a fairly reluctant author. And then it rained. I also discovered I had pockets, having spent the morning mourning the loss of them.

Louis de Bernières

After Frank’s event I battled the bad light in his signing tent, toing and froing between him and Louis de Bernières, while also trying not to miss Lindsey’s photocall. In the end I did that thing which works when waiting for the gasman, except instead of going to the bathroom, I popped back in to see Frank and also opened the door for a young man carrying 16 pints of milk, and there she was. Works – almost – every time!

Lindsey Davis

Bumped into Sally Gardner and we had a chat, and then I went over to the children’s bookshop to see if I could corner Alison Murray who was supposed to be there. While I waited I snapped Sibéal Pounder signing books, and chatted to Ann Landmann who had chaired her event, which sounded as if it had been great fun. I then proceeded to show my writer’s credentials to Ann by talking about the light across the square as having been badder. Worser. Or it was simply brighter where we were…

Sibéal Pounder

Alison Murray

Then it was time for Sally Gardner’s event with Sophie Cameron, where I encountered L J MacWhirter again. Instead of brandishing a prawn sandwich at her, we talked about hen parties and fangirl moments. Charlotte Square is good for the latter.

Sophie Cameron

Back out to photograph Sally’s gorgeous new hair in the bookshop. It’s a sort of cerise. Her hair, I mean.

Sally Gardner

That’s me back at the beginning, telling Kerry about Offspring and her saying I shouldn’t keep them waiting.

So I didn’t. Even if Son had mentioned I’d be better not arriving too early…

Pay the authors!!!

It’s the extra bottle of wine I always remember when I think of pay for authors.

I used to believe that when things are tough, they are tough(-ish) for all of us. That if times are bad and books don’t sell so well (hah), then it’s understandable if there is less money for publishers to pay authors with.

Except this doesn’t seem to be the case. Books sell. Well, some books do, and it appears publishers are rolling in it. And it seems as if the better someone does, the less likely they are to share.

This article in the Guardian by Danuta Kean quotes Philip Pullman and Sally Gardner, to name a couple of children’s authors who have done well. Or used to. Authors are now getting paid less than they were before, and it’s not because the publishers are on the brink of ruin.

It’s time this changed! Pay the people who do the most important work for you!

The wine? It was some time ago now, but I was already concerned over the potential end of the good life for publishers, when at an event with one such (big) company, where there had already been drinks organised for slightly later that evening, the publicist I was with, looked round and decided we needed some wine now, whipped out the company credit card and spent £30 on a bottle for those who couldn’t wait.

I get that even if this bottle could have been bought for £6 in a supermarket, that it was hardly going to break the bank at five times the cost. But in my mind I multiplied this unnecessary bottle and it brought down all the publishing houses. And then where would we be?

The ones I enjoyed the most

It suddenly struck me that perhaps it’s unwise to say anything about best books. Because this time of year I usually list the ones I liked the most, which isn’t the same thing.

And by the time December rolls round I often despair. Yes, I remember that marvellous book I read recently. This year that was La Belle Sauvage. Because it was recent. Longer ago and my memory blacks out, in much the same way as when someone asks what I did at the weekend…

No need to worry though. Out of the 137 books (2017 wasn’t the best year for finding reading time), the twelve that emerged more victorious than the rest, were closely followed by quite a few other excellent contenders.

Best of 2017

I’ve not picked a best of all, nor am I doing the alphabetical order.

Elizabeth Wein, The Pearl Thief

Sally Gardner, My Side of the Diamond

LA Weatherly, Black Moon

Joan Lennon, Walking Mountain

Michael Grant, Silver Stars

Joanna Nadin, The Incredible Billy Wild

Anthony McGowan, Rook

Phil Earle, Mind the Gap

Jakob Wegelius, The Murderer’s Ape

Hilary McKay’s Fairy Tales

Patrick Ness, Release

Philip Pullman, La Belle Sauvage

And as you can see, the 2017 colour for book covers is primarily black with some blue and teal. Rather like last year, in fact. I appear to have picked six women and six men, which feels nice and equal.

There is only one translated book, but there are two dyslexia friendly books, plus one prequel, one equel, one end of a trilogy and one middle of a trilogy. And two Scottish books. All good.

Books like these are what makes it all worth it.

‘The lucrative children’s fiction market’

They usually start arriving early summer. And I usually have to leave the reading of most of them until much closer to the first Thursday in October, purely because I have too many books with earlier publication dates. Or I would throw myself at some of the tastiest October offerings. I’m only a witch.

They are the books destined to be released on Super Thursday, which is today. It’s almost ironic how in the week when I and many others are furious over the celebrity books issue, there are so many fantastic new books being published. Sally Gardner’s My Side of the Diamond which I reviewed yesterday is one such Super Thursday book. In Sally’s case I’m not in the slightest surprised she’s been chosen.

It’s like Christmas. Well, it is for Christmas, of course. And just as with Christmas when we tend to get too much of whatever it is we fancy, so do the offerings of great books in early October seem to me to be too much. I can’t appreciate them all, and I don’t even get to see every potential Bookwitch favourite published today.

The Scotsman had an article about this earlier in the week, and two things in particular struck me. One was the photo of books stacked in a bookshop, to illustrate Super Thursday. I can only assume it was sheer fluke which made it a table laden with children’s and YA books. But it pleased me to find myself face-to-face with books by Patrick Ness and Michael Grant, and others behind them.

The other was the quote above; ‘the lucrative children’s fiction market.’ I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. It’s good to feel there is money in children’s books. And if there is, it’d be great if it could be more evenly distributed and not go to the celebrities. Because the quote was in the context of one of ‘our new children’s authors, Cara Delevingne.’ Maybe that’s what was meant by lucrative – it’s what it becomes when they get someone ‘properly famous’ in.

Because all the names mentioned in the article are well-known ones, or dead and well-known ones. Not the people I mainly read and like. Much as I loved and admired Terry Pratchett and Henning Mankell, if the only live authors listed are Cara, plus Miranda Hart and Tom Fletcher, this could, well, it could give people looking for ideas on what to buy for Christmas, the wrong ideas.

The only books by celebrities I might want to read are their biographies, but I gather they are out of fashion. I wish the celebrities were too.

You’d have thought publishers wouldn’t want to unleash all the new books at once. Surely many books will go unnoticed in this avalanche?

Yes, it seems some books are being kept back a couple of weeks, like Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust. Good for him.

And anyway, all that unpacking and displaying of so many new books all at once can’t be much fun for the bookshops.

Same goes for reviews. Even if I could read the Super Thursday titles well before October 5th, there is no way I could suddenly make all the reviews available in one fell swoop. They need to be eked out. As do the books. Too many marvellous books is like being given a whole chocolate cake. You need to be disciplined and tackle this loveliness in small portions.

A book is not only for Christmas. In fact, for me it’s the time of year I read the least.

My Side of the Diamond

Aliens. Inexplicable happenings, with more than a hint of Roswell. And it’s written by Sally Gardner. What more could you want?

This isn’t Sally’s first science fiction novel. It could be her best, but when I say that I don’t have the others in such fresh memory that I can swear to it. She is a woman who can tell stories. Yes, it’s sort of not original, but it is. I’ve not read anything like it.

Sally Gardner, My Side of the Diamond

It’s short. I was almost worried Sally wouldn’t have time to reach the conclusion by the end, but of course she does. There are no wasted words. And it’s all so normal, too, apart from the abnormal, and the little futuristic view of London, which seems so likely when you think of it.

Weird stuff has happened. Jazmin’s best friend Becky jumped off a tall building and disappeared. She didn’t die. Or she probably didn’t. There was no body. But the authorities don’t like this kind of thing so it’s all blamed on Jazmin, the poor working-class girl.

Told mostly from Jazmin’s point of view – but occasionally by various other characters as and when their input is needed – she appears to be talking to someone about what happened. If there really is someone there? Maybe she’s gone crazy and sees things?

Absolutely wonderful, with likeable and sensible adults (well, there is the odd exception), and a genuine mystery as to what might have happened; both this time and the strange goings-on in the past. There’s not enough intelligent science fiction in YA, especially with romance.