Friday, 18 October 2013

SCBWI Poacher Turned Gamekeeper Event Teaser with Phil Earle, Non Pratt and Robin Stevens

Next month the brilliant SCBWI (Society for Children's Book Writer and Illustrators) are holding an event called Poacher Turned Gamekeeper, where three folks who work as professionals in the publishing industry

by day and write by night are getting together to share their secrets.

The line up is impressive with Phil Earle Sales Director at Bloomsbury and author of Saving Daisy, Non Pratt Editor at Catnip and author of Trouble and Robin Stevens, Editorial Assistant at Orion and soon to be published author of Murder Most Unladylike (Random House 2014).

All three panellists and SCBWI are very excited about this event and have been spreading the word, check out Robin blog here. With that in mind, we at SOBS have the privilege of hosting a little teaser interview, to show folks what they can lookforward to, and of course you can book tickets to the vent which is being held on November 5th at St James Piccadilly by visiting SCBWI web-site press here.

Lets meet the Poachers turned Gamekeepers...

What was your favourite children’s book as a child?

Flat Stanley By Jeff Brown.

What is your favourite children’s book as an adult?

That's tough, it changes every day....Holes by Louis Sachar, Skellig by David Almond, The Outsiders by SE Hinton...

What do you think makes children’s books so inspirational?

The purity of the storytelling. No messing about, just tell me a story!

What was your favourite children’s book as a child? 

There were many at many different times, so the answer to this question varies a lot! I inherited all my mum’s books from her childhood, including a fantastic collection of Greek myths and legends. I devoured the stories, writing down all my favourite names to give to my collection of toy horses. I can remember the horses, but alas, not the stories of their namesakes!

What is your favourite children’s book as an adult?

I’m going to default to The Knife of Never Letting Go because it’s my favourite book of all time. Searing prose, unsettlingly vivid world-building and cruel twists of narrative. The most exhausting – and rewarding – thing I’ve ever read.

What do you think makes children’s books so inspirational?

Because they are true (at least, the best of them are) – they speak straight to the nature of the reader without any pretensions or hidden agendas. Children don’t care who wrote a thing when they first pick it up, which means that the writing has to speak for itself.

What was your favourite children’s book as a child?

Absolutely anything by Diana Wynne Jones. I’ve always known I wanted to be a writer, but reading her as a child made me realise what kind of books I wanted to write.

What is your favourite children’s book as an adult?

It still has to be Diana Wynne Jones – maybe HEXWOOD or THE DALEMARK QUARTET, although it changes on a regular basis. I think she’s perfect.

What do you think makes children’s books so inspirational?

Children’s books are all about firsts. They introduce people to ideas and possibilities that they have never encountered before, and that will stay with them for the rest of their lives as a consequence.

Time for a few Teaser Questions...

 What made you want to work in the field of children’s literature?

I don't know really. I just get a real buzz when I read a kids book I love..

Children’s books have always been my favourite things – although I tried for hundreds of jobs in advertising and PR. I only applied for one in children’s publishing, believing it was too hard to get into and look where that got me.

Children’s books matter so much. A lot of people behave as though they’re somehow lesser than books written for adults, but that’s just not true. Children are extremely discerning readers, and so children’s books have to be incredibly fresh, funny, imaginative and engaging to grab their audience. And the children’s book world is even more exciting now than it was when I was a child – I feel so privileged to be a part of it.

  Were you an editor first or writer first?

I’ve been writing since I was 14. My first novel will testify from the bottom drawer in which it resides that I didn’t learn how to edit until much (much) later.

I’ve been making up stories before I could actually read or write, so definitely a writer. But I think I’ve always had the editorial impulse too – so this combination just feels like a natural fit.

Phil, please can you explain a little about your role as Sale Director?

.I am sales director at Bloomsbury Kids Books. I sell our books to bookshops, supermarkets and e-retailers. I'm also part of the team who decides which books to buy and how to market them..

What is your professional on your passport – writer or editor?

Neither! But if I’m asked what my job is, I say that I’m in publishing.

Sales director, sadly!

Editor? I guess…

What is the most difficult part of your professional role and about being a writer?

Wondering why other books do better than my own!

The guilt. I should be reading a manuscript whenever I’m writing. I should be writing when I’m working late on an edit. When I lie awake fretting about not giving enough to my authors or myself, I should really be sleeping.

The two worlds collide a lot, and so I’ve already had the experience of knowing someone as a writer, and then being asked to assess their work with my editorial hat on. 

What the best part of your professional role and about being a writer?

The emotional detachment. I know why I ask for editorial changes from an author and I’m prepared to ask the same of myself.

I spend all day working at a job I love, and then I get to come home and have fun with my writing! I feel very lucky.

The fact that I get to think about kids books pretty much all day long...

To find out more about this event and book rickets visit the SCBWI London Professionals Series page by pressing here.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Guardian Children's Fiction Prize - reviews

I’m going to start my round-up of the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize shortlist with the book I suspect fewest folk will be familiar with and that is Rebecca Stead’s ‘Liar & Spy’.

It's a deceptively short and simple tale of the new friends Georges make when he has to move home and the games he gets drawn into when his new friend, Safer, starts to put greater demands on this new friendship.

But the tale is not at all simple. There is a lot going on in this quirky, original story and I really loved the way Rebecca Stead played with the readers understanding of what is going on.

She subtly plays with perspective on some of the power struggles that go on in children’s relationships and it is only as things are slowly revealed that the reader can understand – and also appreciate the quality of her writing and plotting not to reveal the truth.

It’s also a great story about standing up for ourselves. Why do we let the bullies make up the rules and why do we play them, is the central question of this really delightful and intriguing tale which is never short on surprises.

Half the shortlisted authors this year are American (Rebecca being one). Let’s hope this shortlisting will bring her a much-deserved greater audience in the UK as I also loved her first book ‘When You Reach Me’ – which won the Newbery Medal in the US.

There is hardly any need to introduce the second US author who is shortlisted – John Green for his  huge bestseller ‘The Fault in our Stars’.

As it is much more likely you are already familiar with this tale of two terminally-ill teenagers who fall in love, I feel there is probably little to add.

As a bookseller I tend to spend my day talking to people about the books they have liked and read as this is the only reliable way to suggest other books they might try.

I have talked to hundreds of people about the Hunger Games lookalikes, the dystopian adventures, the thrillers and the dark and the gritty that makes up the teenage bookshelves in most bookstores (and most teenagers room). But there have been two outstanding books that come up again and again as ‘favourite reads of the year’ – and they are ‘The Fault in our Stars’ and RJ Palacio’s ‘Wonder’.

It is fairly easy to assess why everyone has loved ‘Wonder – the story of a boy with a facial deformity who has to conquer the reality of life and school – and his eventual triumph in being accepted for the self beneath the disfigurement. It’s almost the only modern-day feelgood fiction book that appeals to both boys and girls, from ten-year-olds through to upper teens.

But it’s the characters in John Green's book that teenagers appear to adore - the dialogue, the intellect of the protagonists. But the reason I enjoyed it is that, heartbreak aside, it’s a message of hope. Despite its heartbreaking subject matter, it is a feelgood story as the most important journey the main protagonist goes through is not just about her first love affair (which has the added poignancy of probably being her last).

By the end of the book, she has reached an understanding of the question she poses at the beginning – why, if you know you are to have a short life, is it even worth having been born at all?

The question which Mr Green answers most beautifully is a wholehearted ‘yes’ that we can touch other people deeply, inspire and meaningfully love other people and create something beautiful in quite a short space of time.

And that how long we are here is not so important as what we choose to do with that time.

Another protagonist off on a dangerous journey is Stan in David Almond’s ‘The Boy Who Swam With Piranhas’.

When Stan’s home town shipyard closes down and options for employment are limited, his uncle turns their home into a fish processing factory, with Stan shifted out of his bedroom to rise at six to pot pilchards. It’s good-bye to school and learning and hello to machinery and mayhem and an increasingly mad uncle.

Stan runs away to join the hook-a-duck stall, while his Uncle’s lunacy starts to draw attention from shadowy officials. But Stan is about to have a meeting with destiny – in the form of Pancho Pirelli and his amazing death defying piranha act.

With larger-than-life adults, grotesque baddies and a nostalgic feel to this story, it is the humour that I think most people will really love about this book. That and the illustrations by Oliver Jeffers, which are sublime.

Why are there not more illustrated books for this age group. And why not more by Oliver Jeffers??

David Almond, author of the phenomenal ‘Skellig’ will get a slice of the David Walliams/Roald Dahl action with his funny fishy tale.

As well as the humour, what I loved about this book was that Stan (rather like many Dahl heroes) acts in a much more mature way than all of the adults. He says the right thing to the right people and seems to exude an empathy that everyone warms to – including the reader.

More homegrown talent for the fourth contender for this prize and a writer we already love here on Space on the Bookshelf as Katherine Rundell featured as our August book of the month. Certainly less well-known than David Almond, Katherine is marking herself out as an author to watch for the future.

‘Rooftoppers’ gives me a warm feeling that the judges for this year’s Guardian fiction prize for children share my love of a good old-fashioned story, and quality writing – writing that is also pretty quirky.

Katherine Rundell’s story about the unusual upbringing of Sophie – shipwrecked as a baby and brought up to believe in books and music – who heads to Paris in search of her mother.

There she finds help among a group of dispossessed Parisian children, who are as much at home on the dizzying heights of the sights of Paris as most of its residents are in its cafes and who teach her to leap across rooftops as they stay one step ahead of the authorities in their quest to find Sophie’s real mother.

The winner will be announced on Weds Oct 16 for this prize, which is the only children's fiction award selected by fellow writers.

Friday, 4 October 2013

3D Review - Brock – Spotlight on Writing.

Anthony McGowan’s Brock is a chilling and gritty read for teens. It is refreshing step away from the lion’s share of YA literature which centres on middle class teenagers focusing instead on Nicky and Kenny from a disadvantaged family. The voice is strong, tough and yet sympathetic and has an instant impact of a child that has been forced to grow up before his time.

Reading Brock transported me back to anther read, one I read as part of the school GCSE syllabus that have a similar gut wrenchingly tough voice and a protagonist from a working class background; A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines. In our interview with Anthony early this week (press here to read) he sighted A Kestrel for a Knave as a strong influence for Brock, and on his web site (press here) he lists the film adaptation KES as one of his favourite films. This indeed shines through, yet Brock is distinct in its uniqueness.

A Kestrel for a Knave was published in 1968 and follows Billy, showing his relationship with his abusive half-brother, his disinterested mother living in the hard and desolate north, with his kestrel Kes being his only friend. The influences on Brock are clear, with Brock protagonist Nicky coming from a broken no-income home, but Anthony bring his tale in to the twenty first century.

A Modern Family is just as likely to be a single parent where it’s the father present, Brock reflects this, Nicky and Kenny’s mother walked out on them, and their father is unemployed, and in trouble with the law possibly facing prison. With their father being despondent it’s Nicky who steps up and takes on the parental role, looking out for himself and his brother Kenny. Whereas in A Kestrel for a Knave the sibling relationship is based on abuse and hate, Brock’s is bases on love, and tackles the difficulties subject of learning difficulties.

Kenny has learning difficulties, due to oxygen starvation when he was born. Nicky’s view on Kenny is touching, and is a real testament to Anthony's skilful writing.

“…he [Kenny] isn’t always trying to work out the angles, or how to stitch you up. He thinks other people are as kind as he is, and he only has one idea at a time…. I think ‘simple’ is a better and kinder and truer than talking about ‘difficulties’ or ‘disabilities’”

Nicky’s affection and parental nature is event throughout the book, with him always looking out for Kenny making sure he’s wearing warm clothes and has been fed, although the frustrations are also clear. Anthony has explored the issues of learning difficulties, single parent Families, and child careers seamlessly without turning the story into a heavy Issue’s book.

As a writer I'm always amazed about how other authors weave their stories juxtaposing narrative, action, emotion and description. What I found particularly intriguing in Brock is the sparse character descriptions. This makes it easy for a challenged reader, as coming away from the action to read a beautiful description of a person can make you lose the story thread and put down the book (and after all in real life you don’t look at someone you know and describe them in your inner-monologue!) In Brock Anthony, has skilfully adopted the Fairy Tale method of describing someone with a Name. Yes a NAME can be powerful enough to evoke an image in your mind, Sleeping Beauty, Ugly Step Sisters. In Brock, The human character names all congers up the right image especially in combination with the nougats of information that Nicky provides, like Jezbo (remarkably similar to ASBO) who has two dogs called…

“Satan and Slag. That told you all you needed to know about Jezbo.”

Brock is a sophisticated story written in an obtainable way for challenged reader that deals with difficult subjects whilst managing to deliver a happy ending that inspires hope. Despite it’s subject Brock has a reading experience which seem more like a roller-coaster; exciting, and quick and easy, which I strongly urge you read, challenged reader or not.

We have a copy of BROCK to giveaway!
Just e-mail  with your name address and Brock in the subject line to

Good Luck!

3D Review - Brock - Reviews

Review by Cameron who is 13 and also dyslexic.

Brock is about a boy called Nicky, whose brother, called Kenny has a disability because, he didn't have enough oxygen when he was born. One morning Kenny wakes up Nicky and takes him to a forest that everybody calls the Corpse. When he gets there Kenny is very excited because some people called Jesbo, Rob and Rich say that he is going to play with badgers. They end up digging up the badger set and killing some.

They find a baby badger and a dog called Tina and take them home to live in the shed. In the end the badger is released to its set and Kenny is allowed to keep Tina the dog.

My favourite part of the book is when the badger is returned to its home and the mean people, Jesbo, Rob and Rich have to do community service. Also another part I enjoyed juice six months later when Nicky and Kenny's dad finds a girlfriend and they go to where the badger set is and they meet the badger that they set free six months earlier.

I think that: the thick coloured paper is much easier to use because you can't see through their page to what's on the other side; The pages don't flick around so much therefore, it's easier to keep your page; also, the book isn't very long so I can easily read it in a day; the text is large and well-spaced out so it's hard to get the words jumbled up when you are reading, this is why it is easy for dyslexic people to read.

I think people should read it because it is easy to read and it has a very clear plot and you're constantly thinking about what's going to happen next. So you're never going to get bored. Also all of it is possible and it could happen to you. It tells you what is right and what is wrong to do in life.

Brock - Adult review

At SOTB we like to look at the book as a whole, the story is the most important thing, but we believe if you’re reviewing a book, you need to review the whole package, so with that in mind I’m starting with the cover. Brock has an amazing cover – you don’t need to read the blurb to know what to expect, the cover says it all. The photograph is bleak yet hopeful and on top of that it's aesthetically pleasing. Then you open the page to thick tactile paper printed with large easy to read print (which to me being dyslexic really made the reading even more pleasurable), this is accompanied by a lovely countryside illustration which instantly sets the scene.

So once wowed by the cover, pages and text and quite frankly feeling a little envious that Barrington Stoke weren’t about when I was a challenged teenage reader, I began to read. WOW! What an opening chapter, starting with...

'The Old Male shifted in his sleep. He was fighting again those long-ago battles, back in the days when his teeth were still sharp.'

When the old male wakes to the sound of dogs and the chapter concludes you know he’d going to his last battle.

'Yes, there was still one last fight in those old bone.'

Chapter two leaves the badger behind and effortlessly transports you into the life of Nicky, as he woken in the cold dreary morning by his brother Kenny. Within the first paragraph you know these boy’s lives aren't easy.

‘I wanted to stay in bed where it was warm. Ever since the boiler bust the morning had been hell. In the night your breath would freeze on the inside of the window so you could write your name in it …’

Nicky voice is hard yet sympathetic; he talks tough but he’s a good lad. Anthony show’s this beautifully through Nicky’s relationship with his ‘Simple’ brother Kenny, and how he takes on a parental role, looking out for him, and following him into the middle of a copse in the early hours of the morning.

This is where we catch up with chapter one. The next few chapters are the harrowing scene of Nicky watching helpless as Kenny in his naivety helps village bad boy’s Jezbo, Rob and Rich (and their dogs) bate the baggers. The scenes are purposely brutal and written expertly to show the horrors of bating and the complexities of bullying and fear. This is an exhilarating and at times uncomfortable read due to its raw emotions and relenting honesty, which expertly balanced to portray the grizzly scene.

With the bating past, and Jezbo, Rob and Rich long gone, Nicky and Kenny find wounded Jack Russell, Tina, and a single badger cub snuffy. The brothers take the two vulnerable creatures and nurse them to health. Whilst Nicky works on a plan to reunite snuffy with his family, Kenny’s naivety attracts the wrong kind of attention from Jezbo, Rob and Rich.

The story is plotted in way that leads to an exciting and fulfilling ending, reaffirming family values in age of broken homes and recession.

We have a copy of BROCK to giveaway! 
Just e-mail with your name address and Brock in the subject line.

Good Luck!

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

3D Review - BROCK - Editor Interview - Mairi Kidd

We at SOTB know it takes more than writer to make a book, so we have an interview with the editor of Brock, Mairi Kidd, who is also the MD OF Barrington Stoke.

What was your favourite children’s book as a child?

I don't know that I had one - I was more concerned with quantity than quality when it came to reading. I remember gobbling up Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew, the Green Gables books, Lois Duncan, Judy Blume and - like any self-respecting Scottish child - The Broons and Oor Wullie. I also read my mum's childhood library, which included two long-forgotten series I loved, one about Nicholas Thomas the naughty kitten and the other about a crime-fighting nurse called Cherry Ames.

What is your favourite children’s book as an adult?

Again, so hard to answer! If I had to choose, then my favourite picture book would be a tie between Sendak's 'Where the Wild Things Are' and Jon Klassen's 'I Want my Hat Back', and my favourite novel between Sonya Harnett's 'Silver Donkey' and Alan Garner's 'Owl Service'.

What do you think makes children’s books so inspirational?

At the younger end, I think the visual aspect of children's books is hugely appealing and I'm delighted to see 5-8s and 8-12s using more illustration and more imaginative design. I wish there was more of a market for picture books for older children as the examples that do exist are so wonderful. I think that there is a sense of fun in children's fiction that is lacking in publishing for adults, and in more serious works there is a tendency to be quite direct in emotional terms. Children's books don't pull their punches, and I think that's something adults respond to.

What do you love about Brock and what makes it stand out?

First and foremost, I love Kenny. As soon as I had read the first chapters, he was firmly lodged him in my head as a real person. I had the clearest picture of him. And I love the dynamic Anthony creates between Nicky and Kenny, the combination of fondness and frustration Nicky feels. It reminds me a little of the relationship between the two brothers in the Lasse Hallstrom film 'What's Eating Gilbert Grape?', which is one of my all-time favourites.

I don't think Anthony is fully with me on this, but I reckon that one of his great strengths is the humour he can inject into gloom. Nicky's aside as he faces the local hard-case and his terrifying dogs is a case in point. '[They were called] Satan and Slag. That tells you all you need to know about Jezbo.'

Ultimately, I think 'Brock' stands out because Anthony McGowan is one of those really special writers who can nail a sense of place and a character's voice so completely that the physical book seems to vanish and the reader is transported to somewhere else entirely.

What made you want to work in children’s publishing? What, more specifically, made you want to work for Barrington Stoke?

My parents both worked in education and I think I'm hard-wired to want to work with and for children as a result. We're also a very bookish family, and so publishing was an obvious choice, although not my first - I worked in arts development and broadcasting first, usually in my 'other' language, Scottish Gaelic.

I first got to know Barrington Stoke books when I worked in Gaelic-language publishing for schools. It's hard in a minority language to offer children enough experience of text to achieve reading fluency, and as a result their reading ability in the minority language tends to be weak. I was delighted to discover that there was a company out there actually producing books for less able readers that were still satisfying reads, and I promptly commissioned a number of translated editions. When I decided that I wanted to relocate to Edinburgh after years in the Western Isles, I had the incredible good fortune to be approached by Barrington Stoke to join the company, and I still can't believe my luck. The only thing better, in my opinion, than publishing books for children who love to read is publishing books for children who don't... yet.

Barrington Stoke books are designed for challenged readers. Does this impact how you edit Barrington Stoke titles?

Very much so. In addition to the standard editorial processes every good publisher uses, we carry out a specialised edit for accessibility. On the one hand this is a very technical process involving specific attention to syntax and incorporating fairly complex reading and language theory. On the other hand, it requires creativity and intuition to ensure that we don't prioritise the needs of our readers to the detriment of the text.

How do you find authors to write Barrington Stoke Title, do they approach you or do you commission them?

A bit of both. We've been supported by an amazing range of authors from the off, but we're always keen to build our roster of authors as we know that challenged readers desperately want to fit in by reading the same well-loved authors their peers can access. Some wonderful writers have come to us with ideas; others have joined us after downright pestering on our part!

Are there any challenges / rewards when editing a Barrington Stoke book?

The big challenge is carrying out the accessibility edit without losing the author's voice. It can feel like vandalism to take a text that reads beautifully and request changes. Luckily our authors are without exception gracious and willing to work with us to reach a version with which we are all comfortable. Working with the authors is a huge reward in itself - I sometimes have to pinch myself. But the biggest reward comes in the postbag - the flood of letters we receive from parents telling us that our books have broken down the reading barrier for their children. That's what it's all about, in the end of the day.

We have a copy of BROCK to giveaway! 
Just e-ail with your name address and Brock in the subject line.

Good Luck!