Tag Archives: SHRUNK!

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.

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The Longshoremen and SUNK!

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I grew up with the stories of longshoremen.  My father, during his summer holidays in the 1930s was a longshoreman’s boy on the beach in Shanklin Isle of Wight. From what is now a pub on the beach, he lugged small boats and hefted out deckchairs and rented them out during long summer days. The bathing machines had only just been rolled into retirement, women still wore skirts into the sea, and for a boy who had spent his childhood in grim boarding schools, it seemed a charmed and sun flilled place.

Years later, as a 1960s family, we holidayed in the island. Not in the deckchair zone but on the huge majestic beaches of the west wight, where fossils adorned the sandcastles and long breakers meant hours of feeble but hugely enjoyable body surfing.

When my own children were the right age, we took a cottage near Steephill Cove, possibly the loveliest of all the deckchair paradises and became aware of the elderly longshoreman, Mr Wheeler who still hired out the deckchairs.  Nothing in his world is remotely chaotic, it’s all beautifully organised, but it got me wondering about the possibilities.

What if the deckchairs turned on the people? What if the windbreaks trashed the sandcastles? What if everyone in authority pretended there was nothing wrong?

I took this idea and plugged it into the world of SHRUNK! and SUNK! was born. It’s summer, well, English summer, and things are going wrong on the beach, but no-one wants to know  – so Tom, Eric, Jacob and even Tilly get involved in a desperate battle against the marauding beach furniture, rescuing the town from an uncertain future.

It’s out on June 4th – along with a completely redesigned set of brothers and sisters – with a new illustrator who is the fabulously talented Ross Collins (he can really draw.)

Although SUNK! is the last in the series – it can be read entirely on its own.

NewSUNK

Another little book baby hits the shelves.

The third of the SHRUNK! books slipped out into the world last week. Like a freshly scrubbed seal pup it drifted out onto the waves and started to swim .  It’s called GHOSTS ON BOARD, and it has the same lovely characters as SHRUNK! with the addition of a bunch of ghosts.  Jacob is awful, Eric is wise and Tom is sorely tempted.  Tilly, Tom’s unreasonable sister is back –  and Mum and Dad are as ever, clueless numpties.  There’s threat and danger and the contributions of hundreds of schoolchildren (see THE STORY ADVENTURE) wrangled into shape by the application of logic and hard work. You don’t have to read SHRUNK! first, but it helps.

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Thank you letters

It’s that time of year:

Dear Grandma,
Thank you for the colour by numbers set. That is really kind.
Thank you,
Fleur aged 18

Or
Dear Uncle Ian,
Thank you for the pen nife,
I will try to us it carfully.
Ed aged 3.

Now people have different views on thank you letters – see here in the Guardian.  And in part, I kind of agree, but…

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I’ve just written one to a school of children in Stoke on Trent who sent me a stack of letters. They’ve been studying SHRUNK! this term and they’ve been to visit to model village. They had a load of excellent questions like ‘Why did Tom shrink Jacob?’ and ‘Why is it called SHRUNK!’ but best of all, they sent some fantastic drawings:

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They’re definitely worth a thank you letter.

Pillows and mattresses.

I’m currently revising a manuscript that I first wrote in 2008. Yes, that’s right, a book that would now be in year 2 at primary school had it found its feet straight away.  As it is, it’s still an unborn baby of a book, written and re-written and re-written again, shoved in a drawer, forgotten, remembered, rewritten and forgotten again.   In fact it’s been re-written so many times that it has a huge subsection in my document folder that outstrips all the other manuscripts I’ve written .

The reason, I think, that I haven’t successfully delivered it – is that I find it so exhausting.  It is such a huge thing, physically and such a monumental monster to write and edit.

I see it like this:

SHRUNK! and the SHRUNK! books are around 25,000 words.  They are pillows, quite big pillows. In some cases, there are two or three of them, and with the Story Adventure even more,  and they might slip out of my grasp but they are modular, a collection of pillows that need moving up six flights of stairs.  The chances are I will have to go back down and get one, but I will make the trip.

Dear Scarlett and Saving Sophia.  45,000 words. These are single mattresses.  Awkward but fine so long as the telephone doesn’t ring when I’m jammed behind it on the landing.  The mattress doesn’t have any handles, and it does occasionally slip from my fingers and slide all the way down, but mostly the direction is up.  It’s possible to turn the mattress over, invert it, move the beginning to the middle, the middle to the end.

This novel, the baby from the bottom drawer, feels massive.  It’s an extra large kingsize super big, unreasonably heavy  mattress with no handles and lumpy sticky out buttons. Even the first flight takes an age. Every time I change something, there are pages and pages of revisions to make, I slip back down a flight of stairs, and my brain explodes just a little more.  I can actually get lost in the plot and if I’m away from it for more than a day, I’m climbing those stairs from the bottom all over again.

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It’s using every scrap of my head.

So I’m sorry if you’re trying to ring me, or arrange something.  And I’m sorry I haven’t answered your email –  but right now, I really have to get this 65,000 word mattress up the stairs.

 

NOT Birmingham New St Station again?

I’ve been lucky enough to be shortlisted for a few book awards recently. SHRUNK! was up for the Heart of Hawick, debut award. Dear Scarlett made it to the finals of the James Reckitt Award in Hull (you can find out about it here on Liz’s blog) and also to the last 5 of the books put forward for Our Best Book Award in Leicester.

Sadly none of these places are very near Bath.  In fact, Hull is a snappy 5 and a half hours train ride away, so I had plenty of time for thinking in both directions.

On the way up, I mostly thought, why am I doing this?  Am I mad? Someone else will win?  (which they did in all cases, congratulations to Rob Lloyd Jones, Rachel Carter and Tom Palmer) But on the way back I thought about what a totally dedicated bunch librarians are because in every case they were charming, helpful, hospitable, soothing, enthusiastic, hard working, going far beyond the call of duty, and they were passionate about books and reading.

I asked how the awards were put together and I discovered that at Hull and in Leicester, huge piles of books are being read through the year ready for the longlist. Reviews are combed, blogs are read, covers examined.  Age ranges carefully considered  – books included or rejected.  It takes most of the year so between that and the Summer Reading Challenge it’s fairly full on.  And then, in addition to that, they have to organise the actual ceremony.  Persuading us authors to come, hiring buildings putting together activities for children liasing with schools.

All this is in response to a potential or actual drop in reading or achievement locally. The idea is to get the children to vote themselves – give them some power over us, the authors – get the authors up to meet them, engender passion and excitement about reading in the children.  Increase attainment, lifelong love of learning and reading.

At Hull there were 400 children, in Leicester 300 but they’re only the tip of the iceberg because each school could only send a few children – back there, out of sight were masses of children who couldn’t come to the award ceremony, but who, as a result of the awards, had a strong sense of ownership.

It was great.  And even as I passed through Birmingham New Street Station for the fourth time in a fortnight, I gave thanks for librarians, for libraries and for award ceremonies and all those who work so hard to put them together.

You’re all pretty incredible.

 

Cullompton and Hawick – Heart and Soul.

This post is rather long – so get yourself a cup of tea, but I had a bit of week last week – a lovely week, but one of those weeks when you don’t get any writing done. However I did get to do quite a bit of travelling.

On Tuesday, I was invited by a brand new festival Cully Loves Books to come and talk to the year 9s of Uffculme School. They were bright and receptive, the school was fantastic. From the welcoming librarian to the tongue tied 16 year old budding writer the whole experience was really positive.  Afterwards I met Susie Tyler (librarian), the powerhouse behind CullyLovesBooks and went to visit the temporary hub of the festival in the pop up bookshop in Cullompton. Cullompton is a town that has suffered from the decline in rural industry and I suspect a massive increase in online shopping.  It’s once proud main street, boasts too many empty shops to feel healthy. However, funding has build a new, shiny, library, enhanced the the ancient church and rescued an extraordinary Jacobean building (the Walronds) which was about to house the pop up book shop.  It turned out that even the bookshop was a rescue operation. Nearby Crediton lost its bookshop and only through a community effort was it re-opened in September 2012.  Susie rushed back from my event to help two of the volunteers stack shelves and arrange the books before the next event which was to take place that evening.

Bookshop

As I drove away, I couldn’t help feeling real awe at the amount of effort everyone was putting into everything, especially Susie.  The monumental task of organising a festival for the first time didn’t appear to have daunted her.  She’d raised funding, she’d fought hard for spaces, dates, writers and volunteers. She’d sold tickets, booked schools, unbooked schools, rebooked schools. She looked after me, and I’m sure all the others who came down – and it was full of heart.  Every bit of it.

 

On Thursday, I took my husband on a mad day trip to Scotland.  We flew to Newcastle and drove north to Hawick – pronounced ‘Hoick’.  The town lies in breathtaking and almost completely empty countryside, and like Cullompton has suffered from dwindling employment and industry.  My guide, Brian, born and bred in Hawick, but someone with the perspective of working in Hong Kong for many years, told me of the vanishing knitwear industry and how some people began to worry that with lack of employment came low ambition in children and potentially failing education.  They started with reading, and now, several years on, they have something called “The Heart of Hawick Book Awards”.  It’s for debut novels. SHRUNK! Was shortlisted, so I had been invited to the awards and felt that I would like to go and see what it was all about.

Hawick Balls

Once again, it came down to a massive effort from a few very dedicated people (once again, librarians feature here).  Here, the award has been running for some years, and is well embedded in the community.  The children read and decide on the books that will win.  It encourages them to read and think critically about books, get involved and be listened to –  and a big bonus for me, one book is chosen to make an animated film. You can see it

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We were looked after so well, everyone was so welcoming and warm, it felt fantastic.  And all the way back to the airport we talked about what an extraordinary experience it had been to be in the heart of so much goodwill and effort.

What struck me about both of these events was that they had soul.  Partly because they’re small, and partly because they are still run by the people that thought they were necessary. But mostly because these people care so much for their towns and believe that reading is a way forward for the children of those towns. A way out, a way up.

Now I’m back in Bath I can’t help feeling that things like Heart of Hawick and Cully Loves Books, really matter, that they deserve more than they get, that we should all take notice of them – and that if you’re invited to go to HAWICK, because your debut novel is selected, do go – it’s a long way, but so worth it, in so many ways.

 

On Saturday night, I did the Moonwalk – 26.2 miles overnight past the sleeping souls of London. On foot.  It wasn’t nearly so much fun, and so big I can’t help feeling it’s lost its heart.

But that’s another story.