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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?
I was nominated for this chain-blog-thingy by the inspirational Liz Broomfield, non-fiction author and real life neighbour. Like Liz, I don’t do these things often – but this one has good questions and you only have to nominate two other authors, so hooray. Also today, the brilliant writer Helen Grant is posting on the same subject – http://helengrantbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/what-why-and-how-i-write.html .
“What are you working on?”
I’m about one-third of the way through Somerton Book 3. At Somerton is a publisher-led, YA series that I’m writing for Disney Hyperion, and which has so far sold to Hot Key in the UK and Springer Verlag in Germany. It’s a Downton-inspired soapy rollercoaster with lots of scandal, secrets, and upstairs/downstairs drama. I’ve been doing lots of research and reading some fascinating first hand accounts of the period, including Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain, and Horses don’t Fly, by Frank Libby, an American World War 1 ace. This book is called Emeralds and Ashes. New characters appear and some old ones surprise us with what they get up to!
I’m also writing a 9-12s book of my own, working title Wish. It’s about twin sisters who couldn’t be more different, and a birthday wish that goes horribly wrong. It’s a really challenging book to write, because I have an unreliable narrator who’s trying hard not to think about something very important all the way through (because it’s such a sad memory), and although there are supernatural goings-on it’s all really about the past coming unwound and weaving its tendrils into the twins’ present-day life… Very. very tricky to handle – all those layers of thinking and pretending and lying and wishing – but so much fun, for a writer. I’m not getting to spend as much time on it as I’d like, because of the pressing Somerton deadline, but I’m not losing enthusiasm for it, which I think is a good sign!
“How does your writing differ from others in its genre?”
That’s hard to answer about your own writing! My favourite reader review of Chips Beans and Limousines was ‘This book made me laugh but it also made me think.’ I like to think I’m very flexible, moving between genres happily but still keeping my own style. I’m most interested in writing for 9-12s, really. I love writing about that no man’s land when you’re about to turn a teenager, and everything is so complicated. I went to boarding school in another country when I was 11, and moved schools again when I was 13, so it’s an age that resonates for me. I write a lot of absent parents and am fascinated by unreliable narrators – narrators who don’t know the full story, or who lie to themselves unconsciously. And I write a lot of unhappy families. Not necessarily ‘issue’ stories, more families who mean well but just don’t get along, families that are a little flawed, parents and chidlren who don’t understand each other or themselves well enough to get along. My families are jigsaw puzzles that don’t quite fit. I think most people have felt that they’re in that kind of family, at one time or another, so people can recognize the feelings. Also, a lot of tension arises from these situations – and tension fuels story.
“Why do you write what you do?”
I love children’s literature, always have done. I continued reading and discovering great children’s books when I was a teenager, at the same time as I was reading and discovering great adults’ books. I’ve never felt that writing for children is a less worthy choice than writing for adults. I think it’s the most challenging form of literature, and the most important. ‘Give me a child until the age of seven and I will give you the man.’
“How does the writing process work for you?”
I used to write 10,000 words, lose enthusiasm, and stop. Then I forced myself to finish a novel. A barrier was broken (and a very bad novel was born). Then I learned about arc, shaping, structure. I started to plan and wrote well planned novels that didn’t quite work. I learned about theme. I returned to character. Now I plan from character and never let theme out of sight. And sometimes (as with Chips, Beans and Limousines) I’m just lucky that it all falls into place! I’ve had very useful feedback from beta readers, over the years, and have learned to listen to it with an intelligent ear. Teaching writing helps me learn to write better.
That’s it from me. I nominate 1) author extaordinaire Susie Day– if you’ve not read Big Woo do so now, such a fantastic voice! And 2) debut YA novelist Eve Ainsworth. We always knew she’d get published eventually and she has! Can’t wait to read Seven Days when it comes out.