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Last year was a year of writing feverishly. I had four commissions, which together with other work seems to have taken up my whole year. The books are now coming in (love getting my author copies!) and I hope to pull a few blog posts and resources together around them.
The late 1960s, USA
First to come through the door were sample copies of Katherine Johnson: A Life Story. This is a 30,000 word biography of the Black American mathematician who – in an age when barriers for Black Americans and women in the USA were not only present, but often enshrined in law – nevertheless joined NASA, became crucial to the space race and played an essential part in getting men to the Moon. Aimed at 8 – 12 year olds, it also contains plenty of science activities to try at home, and even a playlist to take readers into a world of space dreams. Katherine Johnson’s amazing life and achievements have spanned the 20th century, and in particular, the biography focuses on the Moon landings of July, 1969.
The early 1800s, Egypt
Then just this morning, my author copies of The Smiling Stones arrived. This is a story I’ve wanted to write for ages, and Rising Star’s Reading Planet reading scheme gave me the chance to do that. I grew up in a country where astounding ruins of ancient civilisations were everywhere. But how would I have felt if someone – from a richer, more powerful country, with permission from the ruler himself – had come along, equipped to dig up the beautiful statues and awe-inspiring columns that were part of my home landscape, to ship them far away to a place where I would never see them again? That was what happened in the early 1800s, when the first Europeans began to explore and exploit Ancient Egyptian sites, and though I was brought up on Indiana Jones and the magic of exploration, I knew that as an adult, I couldn’t bear to write that sort of adventure story. So I decided to flip the story: make it about an Egyptian boy in the 1800s (and his very smart big sister) who manage, against all the odds, to outwit and outmanouvre the man who wants to take their ‘smiling stones’ away from them. It was a tough period to research, and I hope I got enough right.
Fantastic post by Patrice Lawrence, author of Orangeboy and Megaphone masterclass leader.
Born in Brighton to Caribbean parents, living in London, I have been writing since I could. I’ve run the gamut of painful rhyming couplets, existentialist teenage diaries and – er – true romance.
I’ve published some serious stuff, about equality and rights, as well as adult and children’s short stories through Hamish Hamilton, A and C Black and Pearsons, amongst others. I’m good at running workshops, talking to lots of people and training. I’m not good at seeing departure boards (or people I know) without my glasses or whistling. I’m represented by the Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency.
Understand. Support. Challenge.
by Patrice Lawrence
Ten years ago or so, I was at a conference about educational inequality. In 1985, the Swann Report tried to unpick why certain children, often those of Caribbean heritage, were not attaining the same results as their white peers. It is a conversation…
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So you might have seen that I’ve added a new page to the site, titled Megaphone. I’m delighted to say that I’ve been awarded funding by Arts Council England and by The Publishers Association Children’s Book Group in association with EQUIP, to deliver a new writer development scheme, based in Birmingham and aimed at Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority writers who want to write their first novel for children. There will be masterclasses from an absolutely superb line-up of children’s authors, top literary agent Julia Churchill of A M Heath, and feedback from the best editors working in the business of children’s publishing today. A dedicated website is coming in a couple of weeks, but till then please follow @MegaphoneWrite on Twitter to keep up to date.
There’s background to this – if you’d like to know more about why i feel a scheme like Megaphone is needed, check out this piece I wrote for book blog Vulpes Libris: https://vulpeslibris.wordpress.com/2015/09/28/childrens-literature-for-white-children-only/
I’ve felt more action towards diversity was needed for a very long time, and had the initial idea for Megaphone about two years ago, but it was a new departure for me (plus I have a toddler!) so everything took a long time to come together. I’m so pleased that it finally has, and look forward to discovering great new voices in British children’s literature!
So pleased to see Doughnuts mentioned in this news story: Congratulations to the winners and thanks to Karen King and Linda Bromyard for organising it!
Super useful post from Emma Darwin here – http://emmadarwin.typepad.com/thisitchofwriting/2014/10/making-a-living-from-writing-what-works-what-doesnt.html#
So I’m running this course with Writing West Midlands, for all aspiring children’s authors out there….
Short Course: Writing Children’s and Teenage Fiction
23 October – 4 December 2014 (excluding 13th November), Thursdays, 6 – 8pm
Moseley Exchange, 149-153 Alcester Road, Moseley, Birmingham. B13 8JP.
Would you like to write the next Horrid Henry, Harry Potter or Hunger Games? Join Leila Rasheed for this six week evening course which will use writing games and exercises to explore the exciting and diverse field of children’s literature, and literature for teenage readers. Topics covered will include: creating unforgettable characters, inventing original plots, shaping scenes and stories for maximum tension, using genre and busting genres, creating powerful story through point of view, finding your theme, understanding age ranges and writing ‘within hearing’ of children and teenagers. The course will also briefly cover market trends and issues in UK children’s publishing.
PLEASE NOTE: This course is for adults who would like to write fiction for children and teenagers. It does not cover picture books.
Leila Rasheed is the author of three books for ages 9 -12, published by Usborne, and several publisher-led novels for children and teenagers (8 published in 2 years!). She teaches Writing at the University of Warwick, where she gained a distinction in an MA in Writing. She also has an MA in Children’s Literature. Previously she was children’s bookseller for Waterstone’s in Brussels.
£99 for all six sessions.
BOOK: 0121 245 4455 / www.writingwestmidlands.org
I’m really pleased to have Emma Pass guesting on my blog today. She’s the author of two dystopian YA novels, ACID, which has been picking up some excellent reviews, and THE FEARLESS – out just a couple of days ago! Here, she writes about one of the books that inspires her.
The Post Apocalyptic Novel I Wish I’d Written by Emma Pass
I am a prolific reader – my husband tells people I’ve got a ‘reading habit’ – and every time I finish a book I really love, I find myself thinking, ‘I wish I’d written that!’ So choosing just one book for this post has not been an easy task.
After a lot of thought, however, and some time spent perusing my bookshelves, I think I’ve found one – The Stand by Stephen King. If you’re not familiar with it, here’s the blurb from Amazon:
First came the days of the plague. Then came the dreams.
Dark dreams that warned of the coming of the dark man. The apostate of death, his worn-down boot heels tramping the night roads. The warlord of the charnel house and Prince of Evil.
His time is at hand. His empire grows in the west and the Apocalypse looms.
When a man crashes his car into a petrol station, he brings with him the foul corpses of his wife and daughter. He dies and it doesn’t take long for the plague which killed him to spread across America and the world.
The story then follows the lives of a group of people who’ve managed to survive the deadly ‘superflu’, with a huge and multi-plotted narrative that in the wrong hands could become hugely overcomplicated. But in King’s hands, it never does. Despite its complexity, the story flows seamlessly and unlike some books, I don’t need a character glossary to remind me who everyone is.
I’ve been a huge fan of Stephen King since I was thirteen years old, which was also the age I realised I wanted to be a writer. Often sneered at by the critics, he is an incredible storyteller who has had a huge influence on me, and I think The Stand is by far and away my favourite novel of his. I love dark, ‘what if?’ scenarios – the more terrifying, the better, because you get to experience the horrors of these scenarios without, well, actually having to experience them (which needless to say, would not be fun at all).
Every time I read The Stand it makes me want to push myself ¬– to try harder and aim higher, and keep striving to improve my own writing. To me, that’s the sign of a truly great book!
I really like this blog post – agree with what he says about the importance of theme. I recognise the process he describes, moving from suspicion to appreciation, very well.
On my first novel writing course we were asked what we liked in books. I said, ‘Where things happen and people have sex; but they don’t have to have sex as long as things happen.’ Recently, I was delighted to hear that a friend’s child had explained her love of Downton Abbey as, ‘It’s olden times, and things happen.’ Exactly!
What I disliked most was the idea of theme. It sounded so writerly and Hampstead. I was once in a bookshop where there was a reading being given by new novelists. The first stood up and said, ‘There are three themes to this novel.’ I left.
But recently I’ve been wrestling with trying to put some shape to a novel I’ve been writing on-and-off for about two years. There are lots of little mini-stories, a main character, and fairly decent set-up. But it all feels a bit amorphous. Mostly, I…
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There are the books that everyone remembers. Whole generations grew up on Narnia or Harry Potter.
And then there are the books that no-one remembers. Except you. And unless you happen to have held onto a copy, you might end up thinking that you just imagined them, that they never really existed.
Such a book is Peter and the Plaguey Blight.
I guess this was what cutting edge cover art looked like in 1980. How a child could resist, I do not know.
I wasn’t that into it at first. Something about the gangrene-esque quality of the cover put me off. But I ended up reading it a lot, because it was – for some reason – the only children’s book lying around at my Granny’s house, where we spent the long summer holidays. The nearest library was a good bus ride away, Amazon didn’t exist and we wouldn’t have had money for it if it did. This was the 80s. And so I read it again and again. It was about a boy called Peter, striving to overcome some kind of mutant mould – the Plaguey Blight. There was adventure, as I remember, and humour, and a building sense of menace. It wasn’t bad. I got used to it. I got to quite like it. It was pretty good. I don’t know if can exactly call it a favourite after all – but I’ve certainly never forgotten it. Unlike, it appears, the rest of the world.
So, what’s your favourite forgotten book? And does anyone else remember Peter and the Plaguey Blight?