Tag Archives: Simmone Howell

It’s not all the same to me

Why are we not the same? How come a book published in the English language in Ireland (which is practically British, anyway… 😉) needs to be published again in the UK? It seems so wasteful of resources, not to mention slow.

It must be something to do with money. Do more people make more money with a book published in English in ten different countries? I just get impatient with the waiting. And unlike television shows (although the less said about file sharing, the better) you can generally get hold of the physical book from ‘the other’ place.

Sometimes they are let loose on the same day, all over the world. But mostly not, even if it’s just a week’s difference. Harry Potter was released on the dot of whatever midnight was in every nook and cranny of the world. Because they knew if they didn’t, shops would not be able to sell many later copies, as the fans would have got their ‘cousin in London’ to buy and post the book.

Fine. If you need to have a publisher in each country, why not publish all over the world, in one fell swoop? Surely it would even out in the end? Big selling British novel makes money for publisher in London. In return an American publisher hits the jackpot with some other title they have published.

To return to the television angle for a moment. I love NCIS. First it appears gradually over the American continent on the first night’s screening. At a later point they sell the season to a UK channel I don’t have. This channel expects to make money from the commercials shown. Once they are done, one of the ordinary channels acquires the rights. They, too, want money from advertising.

Later on, I can buy the DVD box set. First comes the R1 version. Much later the R2. There will be a reason I can’t just tune in to CBS on the first night. I know. Advertisers in the US don’t reckon I’ll be buying much of what they want me to spend money on. But here’s the thing; I don’t buy much, if anything, brought to me by the UK advertisers, either. (There’s only so many sofas you can buy in one sale.)

So how does this work with books?

I recently reviewed Simmone Howell’s Girl Defective. Simmone sent it to me, because she reckoned it’ll be a while before it’s available in Britain. I could have bought it from that online bookshop we all love to hate. At least, I think I could have. The .com version no longer forces me back to .co.uk, but merely suggests I might prefer it.

As for working out which publisher to approach, that is also very tricky. The names are often the same in different countries, but that doesn’t mean they publish the same books. A couple of years ago I had to do some detective work in order to find the correct Indian publisher of a book.

The author has written the book. It has been edited and given a cover. The printers have printed. So why not just spread this one book? OK, that would be as un-green as Kenyan green beans. We don’t want to transport books across the globe. So why not print the same thing, but in each country?

Covers. Yes. We don’t fall for the same style. But we could learn. We like Indian food. Why not like Indian book covers? It might make us more open minded. Just like there is a market for new retro covers for crime novels, we could covet cultural covers.

In short, I know very little. But I don’t want to wait. At the moment I’m wanting Al Capone Does My Homework by Gennifer Choldenko. It exists. But it will be a long time coming my way, or so the publisher said, once I’d found out who it was (not the same as for the previous two Al Capones).

It’s one thing to wait for an author to write. We have to put up with this. But after that I will just vent my impatience, and snap.

Advertisements

Girl Defective

They’re refreshingly different in Australia. Simmone Howell’s third teen novel Girl Defective is quite possibly her best. So far. (Although that’s got nothing to do with its Aussie-ness.) At times I almost had to restrain myself from wanting a glossary, but not understanding some words adds a certain sense of exoticism.

So does permitting stuff that we rarely – if ever – get in British YA novels. They are freer with sex and booze, and that’s pretty refreshing.

Simmone Howell, Girl Defective

Girl Defective is actually a Christmas book, too, as long as you can get your head round hot summers and Christmas holidays. It is also a rather wonderful aspie novel, with 10-year-old Gully who wears a pig-snout at all times and who goes round acting as if he is a detective. His sister Sky and their father Bill, who is a bit of a dinosaur running a struggling shop selling second hand vinyl records and drinking too much beer, both work hard at keeping Gully calm and away from trouble.

Sky isn’t your average – almost – 16-year-old, either. She has only one friend, the older and rather promiscuous Nancy. Stuff is happening in St Kilda, where they live. A girl has been found dead, and there is a spate of minor crime which affects them, and that Gully tries to solve.

This is a book about finding yourself, about finding love and making friends. Real friends. People you can trust.

There is something about the way Simmone writes. You feel that you’re in good hands. You’re safe, while she is doing ‘a Nancy,’ introducing you to new and worrying concepts in order to find out who you really are.

It’s a fantastic book, and I would like to see it published in more places. Now. I wish every English language novel could just go anywhere once it’s out. After all, I think I worked out what an op shop is, and I don’t absolutely have to understand all the Aussie-isms. They add local colour.

Writing for children

I can’t believe it’s almost five years since my Arvon course. It was one of those things I very much wanted to do, but felt I couldn’t use up funds while there was no money coming in. But I felt it so very strongly that in the end I signed up anyway, when there was just the one place left at Lumb Bank.

Arvon, Lumb Bank

Of course, I didn’t do writing for children. Mine was a sort of non-fiction, general course, which suited me just fine. I see that in this year’s programme they have something for people wanting to get started on blogs and other online writing.

In 2007 I think they offered one, possibly two, weeks for hopeful children’s writers. This year I was impressed to see they do four, and that’s before I discovered it’s actually six weeks. Three of writing for children, two for young adults and one for young people. That’s a lot. It must be due to popular demand, and why wouldn’t people want to come and spend a week in the company of real children’s authors tutoring a group of likeminded budding writers?

I heard about Arvon when Caroline Lawrence reported on having just taught at one of their centres. And I believe she had previously done one of their courses herself. That seems to be the way it is. Lots of current authors have been, and many are now taking up tutoring as the next step.

Just look at who you could rub shoulders with in a kitchen in some beautiful countryside setting; Julia Golding and Marcus Sedgwick, with Mary Hoffman as the midweek special. Or there’s Malachy Doyle and Polly Dunbar, with guest star Anthony Browne. It’s not everywhere you get to hobnob with Children’s Laureates, ex- or otherwise. The two MBs, Malorie Blackman and Melvin Burgess, with Aussie special Simmone Howell. Now that one would be really interesting!

You could have Joan Lennon and Paul Magrs, with yet another Laureate, Julia Donaldson. Martyn Bedford with Celia Rees, and Bali Rai doing the star turn. And finally Gillian Cross and Steve Voake, with guest dramatist Christopher William Hill.

If laureates are your thing, there is always the hope of a week with Carol Ann Duffy, but then you really have to be good. At poetry, I mean. That one is decided on the quality of your poems. Which is not going to be me.

Plus any other kind of writing. All with people who know their stuff. It isn’t cheap, but there are schemes for financial assistance. No internet, and you have to cook your own dinner in groups, so better hope for budding writers who can peel potatoes.

Ms M at Lumb Bank

(We had our own laureate connection – on wall, above – during my week. That’s as well as the house having belonged to a former Poet Laureate.)

Last day of EIBF 2010

Entrance tent to the EIBF

Some late thoughts on the last day of the book festival.

It’s actually been quite good listening to some authors talk about their books, when I haven’t read them. I tend to think that I want to reinforce my love for a book by hearing the author speak about it, but it can be refreshing to listen with no previous knowledge at all.

Press yurt coffee, EIBF

Gillian Philip booksigning

Poster at EIBF

Chris Close and Martin Bell at the EIBF

Yesterday's crop of photos by Chris Close

Philip Pullman in Charlotte Square

The photography guys at the EIBF

A C Grayling and the Swedes

VTB at the EIBF

Queue in Charlotte Square

Book festival mud

Garth Nix was one such writer, and Barry Hutchison and his Invisible Fiends was another. Tohby Riddle. Katie Davies.

Daughter has been inspired to think about which accent she’d rather speak. A Scottish one came high on her list. At least until she heard an Aussie accent from the ‘arse end of the world’, and I have to point out – very strongly – that it’s a direct quote from Simmone Howell.

I don’t often go round photographing posters, but in the London Review tent the one with the name Gilsenan on it caught my eye. Any ideas why?

As Daughter got excited about one Alan Davies, I realised I’d been to an event with another Alan Davies.

It’s been fun witnessing Chris Close taking his own brand of photographs of visiting authors, and then the next day to see the result printed out on canvas and hung somewhere in Charlotte Square. There was a sex discussion one evening, where Chris received complaints that he mainly takes pictures of men. His retort was that more women than men turn him down… And to be fair, they aren’t exactly beauty shots. Good, but more fun than pretty.

Having stood about hearing the press photographers addressed as ‘gentlemen’ for the last fortnight, and thinking of the female ones, I have hit on the prefect one-word solution. Guys. It seems to be acceptable to be addressed as guys by waiting staff in restaurants, so might work on both sexes of the press, too. Because there are two.

Unless you’re A C Grayling, who only got the ladies. We had this freelance Swedish photographer who turned up one evening, getting quite vociferous on sexism in general. And then we never saw her again. Couldn’t decide who had the best hair.

Best beard goes to Philip Ardagh (below), as always. He appeared to have ditched his towel, but I forgot to ask Philip about it.

There was the initial problem facing your VTB, when her Stirling broadband failed, but the spotty table in the tent was an OK place to work from, until the timely dongle saved the blogging industry.

The queues can’t be avoided if you pick a popular event. The hardest thing is to ascertain you are joining the correct one.

Mud failed to be a problem, because the sun shone far too frequently. Not grumbling. The ducks did, but maybe they never saw this little wet paradise in the corner.

Not getting up and going on the train every day will feel good. For a while. It will also be a relief not waking up to the nearby Stirling High School’s bell, which sounds much more like a warning that they are about to use explosives, than that they want the students to go to their classrooms.

Philip Ardagh at the EIBF

‘It’s special’

Eoin Colfer once said he was sure school children only came to his talks in schools to avoid going to their maths lesson. Well, I don’t know what they expect from a trip to Charlotte Square and the book festival. I managed yet another schools event on Wednesday morning, when Simmone Howell tempted me enough to crawl out of bed far too soon after having got into it. Close to 200 teenagers had done the same, and they were a quiet lot. Although the questions put to Simmone were good ones.

Simmone started off by talking about places in fiction, from The Hobbit to To Kill a Mocking Bird through to her own two teen novels. She likes doing maps, and did them for her books. She also admitted to an early fondness for the word ‘peripatetic’ . In between talking about the background to her novels, she read short pieces here and there from Notes From the Underground and from Everything Beautiful. Simmone feels a need to write about what she knows, like places she’s lived in. She reckons she compensates for her childhood by rewriting her life in fiction form. And like a certain witch I can think of, Simmone keeps returning to the same places whenever she travels.

Simmone Howell

They may have been quiet, but many of the teenagers came into the shop and bought one or both of the books. One girl very proudly showed off her newly purchased and signed book to all her friends. She kept opening the book and showing the dedication, kept telling her friends what a special book it was, specially signed to her. It’s nice to see.

Emma ‘Long-Arm’ from Bloomsbury showed off how many books she can hold in one go. Lotsi, as one toddler I knew well used to say when counting. Very lotsi. And she didn’t drop a single one.

As I said earlier, I wasn’t exactly alone in getting up at the crack of dawn. Approaching Charlotte Square I noticed a long snake of day-glo-vested children on the opposite pavement. Later I found them, along with all the others, eating their packed lunches on the grass. Now I know why the mud is so famously muddy. It’ll be all the orange juice they pour out.

It can be hard to get used to all the authors wandering around ‘like normal people’, but I’m trying as much as I can. And one day I’ll pick up the courage to ask Vivian French for a photo opportunity and a signature. As Daughter and Son and Dodo were leaving with the witch to go in search of lunch somewhere quieter, we ran into Gillian Philip. But it’s a bit much when she recognises Offspring first, isn’t it?

Naomi Alderman

Philip Reeve

Ian Beck

Spent some of my spare time looking for more victims I could take pictures of while they were signing books, and I found Naomi Alderman, Philip Reeve and Ian Beck.

Mal Peet

My evening event was yet again with Marcus Sedgwick, this time in a heated discussion with Mal Peet, and kept in order by the queen of writing-about-children’s-fiction herself, Nikki Gamble. The audience was boosted by an appearance by Gillian Philip, accompanied by the two Keiths, Gray and Charters. And I’ll be forever grateful to Nikki for the revelation that Marcus has a past in an ABBA tribute band. Mal, on the other hand, is a former mortuary assistant.

That sort of difference between the two seemed to be a pattern. Marcus’s fascination with cold countries versus Mal’s with warm countries. Marcus plans his writing in advance, whereas Mal can’t even plan a cheese sandwich, whatever that has to do with novel writing. The ‘bone idle’ Mal finds writing boring and depressing.

Marcus Sedgwick

Marcus read from his new book White Crow, which is no a bundle of laughs, according to himself, and he feels he’s outdone himself with this one. In order to stop himself blabbering Mal read from Exposure, which is the story about Othello he stole off Shakespeare. He pointed out that novels have nothing to do with real life; what with characters speaking in complete sentences and how people never go to the toilet.

This was a real conversation about teen fiction. We need more events like it.

VTAs and VTBs

Outside the hotel where we were meeting with one author, we ran into another. Jeanne Willis arrived at the same time as we did, and it was all I could do not to ask her to pose for a photo there and then. Managed to contain myself.

Simmone Howell

Ever since reading that Simmone Howell was coming to the Edinburgh International Book Festival, I’d been wanting to meet up. So I’ve probably stalked her a little by email for a few months, but Simmone of the two Ms gamely turned up at the suggested spot for some tea on Tuesday afternoon. Well, not much of a tea, seeing as we could probably have sat there for hours having a good time, but not much to drink. Service wasn’t slow so much as not really there. At all.

She’s been in the UK for a few months, but is going back to Melbourne later this week. We talked Melbourne a little (not that I know it, you understand), and sex in Y A books, and how the Australian school year is arranged. She doesn’t know Adrian McKinty (yet), nor Sonya Hartnett, though they share a teacher in their pasts. Simmone was getting ready to do an event on making zines, which we didn’t have tickets for. Will see her this morning instead.

Had been going to see Andrew Sachs talking to Alexander McCall Smith, but Manuel cancelled, so I did too. At this rate my events with Mma Ramotswe’s author aren’t going too well.

Marcus Sedgwick

So in the event the day’s only event was this VTB hearing a VTA talk about ravens. And rabbits and de-iced squirrels. (Barry Hutchison should look out.) Marcus Sedgwick did a talk on the Raven Mysteries, and he explained he was a VTA, very tired author. Courtesy of Ry****r he had flown over from Sweden where he’s been busy writing a book, and what the maneater* jellyfish didn’t manage to do, the airline did. Marcus had had two hours of sleep, he was having a bad hair day (or so he claimed), and he’d allowed himself wine with lunch, which resulted in the purchase of new boots. (Footwear purchases do happen so easily…)

Marcus proceeded to perform literary cruelty to an amphibian. He read a bit, and talked some nonsense about peanut butter, and then he made some of the assembled children take part in a short play on the stage. He even had a raven glove-puppet which had passed muster as handluggage. It seems that we are able to enjoy the Raven Mysteries, which are great fun, due to a very early graveyard encounter for young Marcus.

Sarah McIntyre

Sarah McIntyre, of cartoons fame, was signing at the table next to Marcus, and then the photographer persuaded Marcus to jump into the Charlotte Square mud with his new boots. Never mind. He can always buy new new boots.

Attempted to wait around for Seamus Heaney, but this photo-shy man took his time to turn up, so we sloped off to another poet. Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross had finished their event and were signing books until we took them out and asked them (reasonably politely) to pose. I suspect Tony missed the lesson on not sticking his tongue out at people.

Tony Ross

I feel we got the better looking poet. Jeanne had warned me she’d be the one covered in tomatoes. Some tomatoes…

Jeanne Willis

*Jellyfish in Swedish is maneter, and Marcus’s pun was very bad. But then, the jellyfish probably did something not very nice to him first.

(Photos by Helen Giles)

Notes from the Teenage Underground

I’m reading Simmone Howell backwards. That is, first I read the second book, and now I’ve progressed to her first teen novel, Notes from the Teenage Underground. Last time I think I compared Simmone’s book to a blend of Melvin Burgess and Jacqueline Wilson. The Underground story is more Melvin with some Cathy Hopkins gone bad. Not a bad Cathy, rather a less happy group of friends than her mates.

I still can’t get my head round how different they are in Australia. Apart from walking upside-down. There are definitely words I don’t know, and I don’t mean g’day. And I was about to say that they allow more daring behaviour in their YA novels, but since Notes from the Teenage Underground is published in the UK, it has clearly passed any censorship necessary for tender Britons.

Gem – named after Germaine Greer – feels she is becoming an outsider. Her pals Mira and Lo seem to be doing more stuff without her. Or maybe she’s imagining things? It’s their last year at school and it’s almost Christmas, very hot, and they are sitting their final exams. (I said it’s upside-down.)

They want to do something different and special to mark this, so plan some underground action. Gem is into films in a big way, so she decides to make a film. The others almost ignore her, and have their own ideas. Gem also feels the need to lose her virginity to catch up with the other two, and settles on her spotty colleague at her part time job in the video shop.

With an unconventional single mum with a hippyish background and a dad who went off to the wilds of Tasmania to be alone, she has other issues than friends and sex on her mind, too.

The plot doesn’t develop quite as you might expect, which is good, as too many books just show different routes to a conventional end. And all the film references should appeal to arty teenagers. I’m almost thinking I will have to investigate some of the films which I don’t know.