Author Archives: Fleur Hitchcock

About Fleur Hitchcock

Gardener and writer of books for 8 - 12 year olds. DEAR SCARLETT from Nosy Crow 2013. SHRUNK! and The Trouble With Mummies, from Hot Key Books, 2012 & 2013. The Writer behind The Story Adventure.

The things we do for love…

 

GillLewisTwo-79-1024x683For the last two years, a bunch of possibly insane local authors have pulled together to put on an absolutely free, absolutely sensational, mini book festival for children in the tiny town of Bradford on Avon.

Bradford is a bit of a gem. Tiny, perfectly formed, in every way perfect but for a road cutting it in two. However, it has two very precious resources, a library, staffed by fantastic knowledgeable librarians, and a tiny bookshop a melange of old and new, set in the middle of the incredibly visitable shambles.

In order to keep both, and to help the children and parents of the town access both, it seemed like a good idea to run the festival the first time, and again, the second – and now, the third, approaches.

This time we have two uber, special guests.  The sensational Gill Lewis, this time talking about puppies but I’m sure up for digression into her books for older readers, including A story Like the Wind – AND we’ve also nabbed David Solomons, the author of the My Brother is A Superhero books.  Both are doing events, both will have books to sign, places to sit and chat.  And both are completely free – although you need to reserve tickets.

_88823024_solomonspics

There will also be lots of other things going on, including menagerie making with me and Ian McKay, a long read of Matilda, and a stack of events you can find here

In fact – you could fill your day in an utterly delightful way.   All for nothing.

Advertisements

Literary prizes or page turners?

jan12-006.jpgThere’s been some chat on #UKMGchat about prizes and genre and whether people would rather win a prize with a “literary” novel, or get books into the hands of children because the book has mass appeal.

You can find the thread, here.

By coincidence I went to a CILIP unconference (read all about it here)  on Saturday in Keynsham, where the criteria behind the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway medals were discussed.

Something that emerged from that is that Middle Grade (oh how I hate that expression) despite driving much of the children’s book market, often doesn’t make it on to the short lists, because much of it doesn’t have the quality of writing that YA has.

I have to confess, I bridled a little at that.

It was suggested that younger children can’t always access more difficult vocabulary, or abstract concepts, but a one time judge of the Carnegie replied that past winners had included Middle Grade – Alan Garner for the Owl Service, Frank Cottrell Boyce for Millions and  Philip Reeve for Here Lies Arthur, so it was possible to create quality fiction for younger readers.

Another thing that was said by the two Carnegie judges present was that the aim of the prize was to bring books of great merit, that wouldn’t necessarily make it onto the WH Smith’s top ten, to the attention of parents, teachers, librarians and of course, children.

I don’t think this is exclusive to the Carnegie. It is, I think, is the aim of many of the children’s book prizes that are run across the country. I don’t know about them all, but often they are chosen by librarians and then ultimately judged by children.  Sometimes they contain the same books that are in heaps on the tables of Waterstones, but often there are quieter books. Books we haven’t seen all over twitter and that aren’t suggested by Amazon algorithms.  This way, children get to read a more diverse selection, that isn’t just David Walliams or Roald Dahl.

I would suggest, that it is possible to write a book that is both popular, and prize winning.  So it appeals to the gatekeepers, and the children.  I think Millions probably did that.

This I think should really be the aim of all writers for children.  A page turner isn’t enough, we should all aspire to write something of literary merit.  But a prize winner that no-one wants to read isn’t enough either.

The books we write should try to do both.

Education, education, education.

073

I’ve endured school. My children have endured school. The best bits, the most informative bits came from inspired teachers who left the format and took us to interesting places, either physically or in the mind. I think my children would say the same. The allegorists, the story tellers, the mavericks.

The worst bits were the teachers telling us stuff from the front of the class, and copying things down from the board.

When I go into schools, I try to remember this. That the moments that stuck were when I was allowed to go outside the straight and narrow – they were the leaps forward.  When I understood about character – that it wasn’t a visual thing, or even a behavioural thing, it was an internal thing – I was 45 when I learned that.  When venn diagrams made sense because it was explained it terms of gang culture.  When we played on the river bank to get all the experience of erosion and sediment and alluvial deposit.  When Dad and I trawled through parish records and saw how many people died before the age of 30 – to do a school project on local history.

I really don’t think grammar schools are going to do this.

I think it’s going to mean even more time in the classroom, learning by rote and the middle classes, for all the best reasons, will try to get their children into the grammar schools.

But there is an answer. Half the class sizes, double the number of teachers. Stop the darn testing and give everyone more time to learn.

That’s it. I’ve had my say.

 

End of day 4 and I am in awe…

It’s been a bit of a marathon this week. Starting with the fabulous children of Newbridge Primary School in Bath, who between them have bought 101 copies of Murder in Midwinter. Yes, 101. Like the dalmations.  Astonishing.  Credit goes to amazing teachers and a very wonderful mum who got the whole thing going – and some keen, keen children who made the event go like a bomb. I really enjoyed it.

Next was Birmingham, a great inner city school with terrific dedicated teachers and a mixed bag of enthusiastic children, who wrote their little socks off, and who gave me a fabulous welcome. Children who exploded with thoughts and imagination and deserved their terrific teachers.

Then Cottingley – this is further north than I thought. After an horrendous trip up the M5/6/62/ and on… I reached Bradford, then Shipley, and then Cottingley.  A village school of considerable size, I workshopped 180 children (yes it is possible if the staff are astonishing, and they were) and there was some brilliant blood chilling writing, as well as wild and wonderful ideas from the littler ones.  And then I drove back to Birmingham.

All of these visits have proved to me once again, how utterly amazing the huge army of primary teachers are in this country. What absolute saints. We come in, and fly out – we are exhausted by our efforts with children, breathe sighs of relief when it’s all over, but they do it day after day after day.

As ever, I am in awe.

Thank you for having me.

cottingly

Enter a caption

A year five teacher whose name I failed to catch, dressed as Gansta Granny.

World Book Week – Day 1

2016-11-22-12-57-11-1

I’m writing this the night before the day it all kicks off.

Overnight I will go from reclusive, sitting on the sofa with my laptop writer, to all singing all dancing author in schools .

Normally, I slope about in gardening clothes, a bit grubby, but ready to respond to a falling tree or leaf at the drop of a hat.

Tomorrow, proper clothes, proper shoes. A powerpoint (just that word sends chills down my disorganized spine).

There will be maps of schools to find. Names to remember and corridors that are all remarkably similar to negotiate. School lunches, and school smells. Smiling teachers, anxious teachers, smiling children, reluctant children. In some cases, hostile children and I have to be honest, at times, I will long for my sofa and my laptop and my gardening trousers.

But then, when it’s all over and I look for photos on my phone and I remember to tweet and I write down the mileage (quite a lot this week) I will long for a trip out. A chance to leave my manuscript hanging, my characters stuck in a cave, half way up a cliff. I will long for someone to make me a coffee, not me. And I will remember the children that laughed, that got excited about books, that stared into space and told me about the best thing they ever read.  And I will treasure the letters like the one above that arrive unbidden from children who have read my books.

And I will be glad of being a children’s author, rolled out for this annual festival.  I will long for the excitement of World Book Week.

Just remember though. We are, like puppies, not just for one time in the year. Most of us like to crawl out of our shells more often. You just have to ask.

 

In Real Time.

Just before Christmas I was aware that I was living through the days that take place in MURDER IN MIDWINTER. There was no snow though. And no murder and no actual thrill. Life was the adult whirl of Christmas preparation with just a hint of Christmas magic but rather too much shopping.

Now we’re on the other side, and I’m about to live through the real time of Bus Stop Baby, and this time, the weather’s obliging with frosty nights, too cold to leave a baby in a bus shelter and the promise of spring and days getting longer to follow.

I’m hoping, that given time, I can fill the whole year with stories.  DEAR SCARLETT, soon to be re-issued, is end of summer term.  THE YOGHURT PLOT is late spring. SAVING SOPHIA is the summer holidays, SHRUNK is Halloween.

Perhaps I need to think about September next.

Happy New Year.

The daft things we do…

img_7143

This is me and Maudie a week ago. Full of excitement. But now it’s now and what seemed a good idea at the time seems a bit scarily close.

In just over three hours time, we’ll be bookselling at Waterstones in Salisbury – testing our expertise in kid’s lit.

You can test it too.

Come and join us.  3 – 7 the two idiots at the back of the shop.