Category Archives: writing

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.

Wanting a reaction. Cry, laugh, but don’t ignore me. With apologies to Liz Flanagan.

 

kathleen-turnerThere’s a bit at the beginning of Romancing the Stone when Kathleen Turner is typing out the end of her epic love story and is in pieces over the typewriter. She’s wiping snot off her face and it’s a full on tear moment.   I love that bit – it’s what I always try to achieve when I reach the end of a book.  If I can make me cry I’ve done something I like.

Mad, isn’t it?

Actually WANTING to cry.

Then I saw this on Twitter – a response from Author Liz Flanagan to a reader who had just finished Eden Summer.

A couple of days before that someone sent me a text about Murder in Midwinter, suggesting that by the end of it they had cried.  I was delighted.

How strange to want to produce tears?  To want to make people cry?

When (in a former life) I used to do window displays, I longed to cause an accident at the traffic lights. Not a big accident, a little tiny bumper scrape accident would have been a major result – or someone just missing the lights, failing to take off when they turned green.

I think I wanted it  because it was a reaction – and essentially, we long for a reaction to our work. Positive or negative.  From when we’re very small, and we experimentally pour sugar into our brother’s fizzy drink on a train and it erupts all over the carriage (this happened by the way) and our  mother leaps up and shouts and everyone runs around – we want a reaction. It’s normal.  When we write a passage that makes people cry, we’ve reached them – our words have actually touched someone, which is a major victory.

it’s possibly kind of why we writers put ourselves out there. All that advice about not reading reviews – well I can’t help doing it. Good or bad. I can’t possibly pretend I write entirely for myself – I write for an audience, and I want that audience to react. Cry, laugh, write me a good review.

Write me a bad review.

But please don’t ignore me.

Being a writer is fun…

Screenshot 2016-05-21 10.47.55

Being a writer is fun.

Being a writer is spending all day in your imagination,

Flying over mountains,

Swimming deep in oceans,

Foiling criminals,

Demonizing someone,

Making someone a saint,

Falling in love, again, again, again,

Sometimes a wedding,

Sometimes a funeral,

Building dens,

Saving wild animals,

Seeing it from everyone’s point of view, and no-one’s.

All of the above.

And of course it’s fun – that’s why we do it. But it’s also very hard work.

A desk job that you can do at almost any desk or sofa.  That leaves you elated and exhausted in equal turns.

Full of doubts.

And that’s the dreamy creative, focussed outpouring bit.

But a massive part of it is editing, editing, editing.

And that’s really hard work. When it’s going well, it can be like stepping stones, wonderful paths that suddenly make sense and lead you on with silver promises of a story resolved. Other times it’s a dreadful slog. Sometimes boring, and sometimes challenging, and sometimes very nearly impossible.

It requires a totally different part of the brain.  The one that changes all the “ to ‘ except when it’s a ‘.

The part of the mind that spends half an hour thinking up an alternative phrase, trying every combination of words to keep the rhythm but improve the meaning.

The one that works out, to its horror, that the basic premise of the story is, in fact,  too far fetched. That the central character is unappealing.

And after rewriting and rewriting and rewriting,   (seven years of it)

The one that compares a manuscript to to its original, and finds that of 52,000 words, only 2500 remain.

That is being a writer.

 

 

Waiting

We all hate waiting.  Only yesterday I had a conversation with another children’s author about waiting.  About being a mother and hanging around.  Waiting for someone to need something. Needs that come at irregular intervals, just close enough together to stop you getting on with something.

It’s about not knowing.  Uncertainty. Start stop.  It stops you focussing.

I remember that one of the worst things before I had both agent and contract, was waiting.  Waiting with hope, daring to hope, deciding not to hope.  Getting an email, not getting an email. It was all agony. Every time I sent something off, I hoped, told myself not to hope. Pretended I didn’t care when I did, deeply.

You might assume that after publication this doesn’t happen anymore. It’s like taking exams, something you do at the beginning but not later on. But it doesn’t quite work like that.

I have two fantastic editors, and a brilliantly lovely agent, and they are never rude. And they don’t take longer than they need to and I know that they will get back to me in the end. It’s not the same as wondering if your manuscript has ended up in a lost pile in a sorting office, or slipped unseen into the junk box of some agent’s email.

That’s much worse.

And generally, I’m pretty good at making sure these things overlap, so that I’m busy doing something else, not just waiting. And I’d rather they took their time over it than rushed to get back to me. And I’m sure that sometimes they’re waiting for me. 

But today. I’m waiting.