Monday, September 6, 2010

A bit flummoxed

Here I am, in my attic-cum-study, hoping the roof will hold and the bucket won't overflow, and finding myself not quite mistress in my own home, what with the water sneaking in through loose tiles and my new story showing me who's boss (not me).
I had this silly idea for a picturebook about a nasty kid who ends up (or thinks he is going to end up) in a 'boy sandwich' at the hands of his two aunts who may or may not be witches.
It seemed pretty straightforward so I picked that idea out of the project box and started working on it, i.e I opened a brand new Word document, saved it as 'Boy Sandwich' and started typing. And then stopped. And started again, with a different opening. After I did that three or four times, I declared to my typing self: ''There's something wrong''.
I thought about it for a while and realised it wasn't the writing that was causing trouble; it wasn't finding the right words to launch the story that was proving tricky. It wasn't even the story itself. It was a) the main character (evil boy) and b) the format (picturebook).
I've written a few nasty-character stories in the past and imposed some terrible fate on them or given them a glorious ending. But for some reason, last week, I found that the boy in the Boy Sandwich project refused to be treated as a nuisance. That he demanded to be painted as a human being with light and shade, good points and bad points. The works.
As a result, the size and shape of a picturebook didn't work anymore, as my Boy needed more space to plead his case and develop. I'm now 1700 words into the story and Boy has yet to meet the Aunts, and I can already see places where I'll have to go back and add bits so that it all makes sense and isn't rushed.
I've no idea where this is going (as my original ending worked really well for a picturebook but might look a bit slim and 'babyish' in the new order of things) or how long it'll take us (me and the boy) (or rather the boy and me) to get there. Even the whole sandwich business may have to go out the window... and perhaps be recycled in some later project!
Exciting times...

(The flummoxed rooster, wondering in actual fact how he can get rid of his hiccups, is from La véritable histoire du coooq Figaro, written by yours truly and illustrated by Dorothée Jost)

Friday, September 3, 2010

Books and bookmakers

Just read this quite amazing piece on It seems up to £500k are spent every year on literary bets in the UK and Ireland. The bets concern the winners of literary prizes, but also the sales figures of such and such a title.
Irish bookmaker Paddy Power... expects a total stake of about £100,000 on all book-related bets, such as unit sales of Peter Andre's biography versus Katie Price's, or sales of Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol, with £50,000 of the total gambled on literary awards, and £25,000 of this on the Man Booker alone. Spokesperson Ken Robertson recalls that Paddy Power's largest literary loss so far was at the 2005 Man Booker, when the bookie offered unfavourable odds of 8/1 on eventual winner John Banville's The Sea—losing £17,000 in the process.
Wonder if the Bisto's in there...

(pic (c) Vincent Gerard)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Publish Your Children's, Tween, or Teen Fiction in Today's Market : A live webinar

Mary Kole, US agent of fame will be giving a webinar on the 23rd of September for the Reader's Digest.

For $79 you will learn:
The essential elements of books written for younger children, tweens, and teens
How your kid reader thinks about fiction and what they want
What agents and editors look for in terms of pitch, writing, and book premise
How to make your hook absolutely irresistible
What separates an aspiring writer from a contracted author in this field

AND you will get the first 500 words of your novel or 300 words of your picture book critiqued by Mary.
Those who register (=pay) will have free access to the webinar for a year.
More info on the Reader's Digest website.

Stand and Deliver 2: Reading and Q&As

We then went on to discuss the all-important matter of Reading and the dreaded Questions and Answers...

Ask the teacher to read the book in class, but only to a certain point. Then when you come in, read the remaining chapters, making the best of the suspense created, interrupting your reading with questions to the children (what do you think is going to happen next? Will I read on or will I stop here?).

Stop your reading at any point to let the kids have a go: they can guess what will happen next or comment on the action.

Give the kids some detective work to do during the reading. Enda gave the example of an excerpt she read from The Silver Notebook in which she uses an element from a well-known fairy tale and asked the children to see if they could spot it.

Here too, try and tie in your reading with the wider writing world (does it remind of other stories/books?) and to the kids’ work (on the book or as displayed in the classroom).

Enda suggested to split the reading in two halves, with a pause in between. The reading shouldn’t exceed 10 mins.

As Sarah Webb said during the first Stand and Deliver workshop, you are not tied to your text. Sarah suggested you could slightly rewrite or cut an extract to better suit the needs of a listening audience. Enda encouraged ‘flicking’. You can read very short, punchy bites from you book and jump from one to the next, skipping entire chapters.

4) Q&A
It can be a good idea to enunciate the golden rules of Q&A right from the start: 1) listen carefully and you’ll find that some of your questions will be answered before you ask them; 2) put your hand up if you have a question.

If there are no questions from the kids and the teacher/librarian doesn’t volunteer any, ask the children some: where do you read? What do you read? Etc. That should hopefully spark off their curious minds and get the ball rolling.

Leave them on a high. If you feel that your time is nearly up and that you’ve given a particularly satisfying/inspiring answer to a question, stop right there.

Make contact with the organisers again for feedback.

Attend events by other writers/illustrators. It’s a great source of inspiration and fun!

After our separate sessions, the group was reunited for the real attraction of the afternoon (meaning the Scary Bit), where each of us had 3 minutes to launch into their spiel: Hi guys, my name is Juliette and I’m here to talk to you about my book…
The tailor-made feedback was fantastic and the range of styles and talents pretty impressive. Moving stories were told and incredible props produced, from scrapbooks to wigs to shrunken heads. Intrigued? You’ll just have to wait for these writers’ new titles and events in the coming weeks and months…

Stand and Deliver, 2: Before your visit and Engaging with your audience

For this sequel to the Stand and Deliver workshop, Children’s Books Ireland and the Farmleigh Writer in Residence programme invited poet Enda Wyley and Conor Kostick (novelist and writer in said residence) for an intensive afternoon in Farmleigh’s Old Kitchen last Saturday.

The group of about 15 new writers was split in 2, according to the age-group for which they write. Being a younger-audience person, I joined Enda and half a dozen others to discuss tips and tricks for organising, delivering and surviving meetings with children.
First of all, let's remind ourselves of the whole point of meeting with young readers as a writer: The main thing is to leave your audience with the desire to read any book and with a sense of the writing world. Right, so now, how to achieve this? It’s a long way, so I’ve divided it up in 5 steps. (And 2 posts)

Ask the organiser of the event a few key questions: how many children will attend, how old will they be, where will the event take place, will the kids have read the book in advance, etc. If you’re uncomfortable with anything, feel free to make suggestions to the organisers.

Write up a script for your session. Think of it in blocks of time. How long for the intro? How long for the reading? The Q&A? the activities?...

Make sure you have everybody’s contact and if necessary a map of where you’re going.

Bring your stuff: from notes, to props and bottled water. And don’t forget your book!

With kids of all ages, two traps (equally dangerous) await you:
1) the Lull: when a restlessness sets in, it’s a hint: they’re getting bored
2) the Over-Excitement: when a restlessness sets in, it’s a sign: they’re hyper.
In both cases, a change of rhythm is called for: insert a calm-down session or a wake-up call. Get them to sing a song, recite a nursery rhyme, wriggle their toes, shout the three rules of Vampiracy (only if you’re Justin Somper and have actually invented said rules, but you get the point), etc. This should hopefully reboot the whole machine and allow you to continue.

Ask them questions and praise them for good answers.

Be definitive. You know your book, you know how you got to this stage, show it. Your audience will then feel confident that you’re the person to answer their questions at the end of the session.

Bring props if you have them. From your personal notebook where you jot down ideas, to the first story you ever wrote aged 7. Show the kids how a book is made, from A4 sheets of text to lay-out to cover illustration proposals to the finished product.

If you can, imagine activities around your book. Get the children to draw something (Patricia Forde has a great technique to make them draw a collective monster), to read something (Jane Mitchell asks them to read aloud real testimonies from children soldiers), etc.

The personal stuff can be very engaging when relevant. Tell them if it was a struggle becoming a writer. Tell them about that spooky house you visited when you were 10 and wrote a novel about when you were 30. Tell them about working in a fish factory during your summer holydays. Tell them stories. About yourself and your book.
(Read on to the next post for Reading from your book, Q&As and Post-Visit.)