Friday, 9 October 2015

The story lorry - Anne Rooney

Two weeks ago I took MicroBint to the mobile library. Does anyone else still have a mobile library?

As I helped MicroBint to climb the giants steps, each as tall as her waist, I was suddenly only about three feet tall again. Inside the, floor rocked. Remember the scary rocking of the floor, as if the mobile library had put to sea? Remember the silver-haired pirates behind that turning book thing? This time there were no crocodiles to fear in that gap you could fall into when reaching for the first step from the kerb - well, not that I saw.

Inside it was the same as it ever was. A friendly lady-librarian greeted MicroBint and told her where the books for small people were - right at the back. That seemed strange; I had gone straight to the shelf on the right where they used to be fifty years and a hundred miles ago.

MicroBint's favourite from the story lorry
The other library users were all older people (it was the middle of a school day). They spoke kindly to MicroBint and made space for her to get through. I tried to keep MicroBint quiet, but it wasn't going to happen. Too many happy squeals. We stayed for the 15 minutes before the library had to move on. She pulled down all the books she wanted to look at, we read some and then she put them all neatly back. She had just spent her first three days at nursery and had learned that unless you are at home you have to put stuff away. I tried to persuade her she could take books with her, but she didn't trust that idea, so I chose a couple for her to borrow. The library-lady gave her a sticker.

I never got a sticker. I just got books. But my library lady, all those years ago, had a large dog which lived in the cupboard in the cab. I eyed the cupboard in the cab of this library suspiciously. No tell-tale 'Beware of the dog sign'. No water bowl on the floor of the library. No lead hanging over the driver's seat. Was this a substandard mobile library? Had cuts in the library service meant dogs were no longer supplied? I had seen a photo of the dog that travelled in my mobile library. I remember, actually, when I brought MicroBint's mother to the mobile library, only about 15 years ago, that there was already no dog.

We struggled down the steps, looking out for the crocodiles, and went home. The lorry full of stories rumbled on to the next stop, near the playground. With or without dog.

Anne Rooney
Next book: Story of Maps, October 2015

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Patron of Reading by Keren David

The news is out. For months now, I've been plotting and planning with the brilliant librarian at my daughter's old school, and this week the news was announced. I've going to be Patron of Reading at Highgate Wood School.

Highgate Wood is a comprehensive school in Crouch End, north London, it has 1400 students aged 11 to 16, plus a sixth form. It's multi-cultural and socially mixed, and its alumni include ITV's new political editor, Robert Peston, rapper Chipmunk, DJ Judge Jules and computer hacker Gary Mckinnon who successfully fought extradition to the US after hacking into US military computers, in search of UFOs. 

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the Patron of Reading scheme to partner authors with schools, there are currently around 100 authors working in UK schools. Here in Haringey, the Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green has been working hard to expand the scheme locally, and we patrons have set up an email group for mutual support, information and entertainment. 

I'm very lucky that Highgate Wood has a brilliant library -  sorry LRC -  and librarian Kate, with assistant Noa are already doing a lot to encourage reading in the school. We've been planning the patron role for months now, and hope to be working with all the academic departments in the school, finding a way to infiltrate reading into all the different subjects. This term it's the drama department's turn, with pupils  drawing on my book When I was Joe as inspiration (hopefully).

I'm going to write a regular blog for the LRC, and we've announced a book award for the school, with a shortlist of seven books chosen by the LRC's reading group. They were kind enough to pick my most recent book, but I took it off the list -  got to remain neutral in my new role! 
 I'm kicking off by speaking at six assemblies this week and next, introducing myself and my new role. At the first one, pupils aged 14 to 16 were angelically well behaved, and one boy introduced himself afterwards and recommended that I read The Martian by Andy Weir. 

Kate put together a video of pupils talking about why they like to read. 'It takes you to another world,' said one pupil. 'It helps you when you've had a bad day.'  

Why do you like reading? from Highgate Wood School LRC on Vimeo.

I'm excited to take up this new challenge. I'll report back at the end of the school year to tell you how it's going. 

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Pupil Library Assistant of the Year Award by Dawn Finch

Last year was the inaugural Pupil Library Assistant of the Year Award and it was the most amazing celebration of the extraordinary work that pupils do in their school libraries. When the creator of the award, Barbara Band, asked me to be on the judging panel of this award I was honoured and accepted immediately. It has been the most rewarding process and I've enjoyed every minute.

A well-managed school library is the best resource that a school can offer, and extensive research demonstrates that a school library raises attainment in the school, but that’s only a small part of the story. What a school library really does is nurture a lifetime’s love of reading for pleasure. The school library reaches far beyond the extent of learning and taps into the part of us that needs more than just an education.

The school library is a safe haven, a trusted and reliable space where pupils can be themselves and find books that engage and support them. Pupil Library Assistants are an integral part of this engagement process as they show that the library does not belong to adults, it belongs to the young people who use it.

Last year the Pupil Library Assistant of the Year Award had the support of a fantastic group of authors, and we’ll need that support again this year. The authors who attended the event made all the difference and everyone who shared, blogged, retweeted and plugged the award ensured that the finalists felt incredibly special.  So to Lucy Coats, Jeff Norton, Sufiya Ahmed, Teri Terry, Caroline Lawrence, Tim Collins, Cliff McNish and everyone else who offered books, time and support - we want to say another huge thank you to all of you, we really could not have done it without you.

The work that these pupils do is astonishing and life-changing, and it is humbling reading their stories and what they have done to support reading for pleasure and their school libraries. Join us in celebrating school libraries and the pupils who give their time to support them and to make a difference.

The nominations are now open for the next award, and the ceremony date is set for March 2016.
If you feel that you can support the award, drop us a line at – and for more information about the award, click here.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Constraints and Creativity ... Cecilia Busby

I was driving home yesterday and heard Jeanette Winterson talking on the radio about her new book, The Gap of Time, which is a reworking of Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale. She had obviously had a hugely fun time working with the ingredients of the play, going back to the original source, a play by that famous Elizabethan drunkard and womaniser Robert Greene, and finding creative ways in which she could explore the story and make it work for her own purposes.

It made me think a little about the nature of creativity, and what happens when you put constraints in it - suddenly instead of 'write anything!' you have the injunction to 'write this story and make it new', or 'use these characters and say something original about them'... It's interesting to think about how that process differs from the one of writing when your imagination is unbounded. Initially, it might be thought that putting those kinds of constraints on your writing is a handicap - it results in a bound creativity, one that's stifled, forced into only certain channels. It ought to result in less good writing. And of course, as with the rather pedestrian sequels that are sometimes tacked onto the end of series when the author has died (the later St Clare's books, anyone?), often that's exactly what happens. But sometimes, the constraints seem to give an energy and direction to a writer's creativity that results in something better than they could ever have imagined.

Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book is a case in point. For my money, it's the best book he's written for children (his best book for adults, I think, is Neverwhere, closely followed by American Gods). I don't know why it's his best, but I suspect it's the way he had to work his creativity, the way his imagination was forced and constrained into certain channels by the model he based it on: Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book.  Would the man Jack have had the same bite if he wasn't also, at some level, the tiger, Shere Khan? Would Silas have been the same silent yet powerful beast if he wasn't also Bagheera, the black panther? (Of course, it has to be said that Disney's Jungle Book had no part in the production of The Graveyard Book, which has all the brooding menace and powerful emotional tug of Kipling's original and none of the silliness...)

Another recent triumph of constrained imagination is Kate Saunders' Five Children on the Western Front, where E. Nesbit's original Five meet the psammead again, and are followed through the First World War. The book is heart-breaking, and all her own, but it's the work her imagination had to do, taking off from those original stories and bringing exactly those characters back to life in a new setting, that created the magic.

My first series for children was set in Arthurian Britain, and featured all the usual suspects - Arthur, Merlin, Sir Gawaine, Sir Lancelot - as well as my child characters. Bringing them to life as my own creations, yet still on some level connected to all the versions of them that were running around my head from previous stories, was exhilarating. But it was when I wrote the second book in the series, Cauldron Spells, that I got a real taste of how creative constraining your writing to a model can be.

Having written the first book as a stand-alone, I had been asked to turn it into a series of four, and thinking about how to do that led me to the four treasures of Celtic Britain - the sword, the cup/cauldron, the stone and the spear. I thought I could work with those, and so book 2 became the cauldron one, book 3 the stone and book 4 the sword. Having decided a cauldron would feature, it didn't take long to decide that would be the cauldron of Annwn.

There's a very strange and at times undecipherable poem from the book of Taliesin, called the Preiddeu Annwn, or the Lay of Annwn - and I decided that I would base the quest part of the book on this poem.

The full text is here, although there are various alternative translations and retellings, from some of which I got other ideas and images. However, it's from that poem that I got my cauldron - plain, black, with a rim of pearls. And from that poem I found my quest - Arthur and his companions had to go to Annwn, and 'only seven' would return.

This being a children's book, that meant only seven would be going - which became Arthur, Merlin, my two main characters with their pet dragon and pet rat and their father, the gruff, burly Sir Bertram. The poem gave me a 'challenge' for each of them - and amazingly, the dangers Arthur faced in the poem could be beautifully fitted to my characters. Sir Bertram - who always wins the competition for The Knight Who Can Quaff the Most Ale in a Single Swallow - was perfectly fitted to the Fortress of Mead Drunkenness, while Adolphus the hare-brained dragon had immense fun chasing all the Hounds of Hell around an enchanted forest. Ferocious the rat got to bite the ankles of the Nine Maidens, and Arthur himself tackled the silent sentinel guarding the Fortress of Glass.

Taking this obscure and odd little part of the Arthurian legends and remaking it for a whole new audience and context was a different kind of creativity from just 'making it up' - but it was one I had immense fun with, and Cauldron Spells has a special place in my heart as a result. There is something about the focus that gives you, and the extra resonances that come from ducking and weaving between texts, that is quite amazing - the constraints become in an odd way liberating.

So I am looking forward to reading The Gap of Time, and relishing its connection with A Winter's Tale. I'll be interested to see if the constraints worked to energise Jeanette Winterson's already formidable imagination.

Cecilia Busby writes fantasy adventures for children aged 7-12 as C.J. Busby.

Her first series was the Spell series, an Arthurian knockabout fantasy aimed at 7-9. Her latest book, The Amber Crown, was published in March by Templar.


"Great fun - made me chortle!" (Diana Wynne Jones on Frogspell)

"A rift-hoping romp with great wit, charm and pace" (Frances Hardinge on Deep Amber)

Monday, 5 October 2015

#diverseauthorday by Savita Kalhan

On Thursday 24th September, there was a #diverseauthorday on Twitter. It was a campaign organised by North Londoner Rosie Canning. A few months ago, Rosie sent out an email to writers she knew, diverse authors of children's lit and adult fiction and bloggers, proposing that on 24th September we tweet and retweet talk about diversity until the hash-tag got noticed. Well, it did get noticed. It was trending on Twitter, which is quite something. Yes, there were a few declaimers, a few trolls, but that's to be expected. People from all over the world got involved, which is pretty amazing.
Please read Rosie's full report on the Greenacre Writers Blog; it's a very interesting read - Reflections on #diverseauthorday

The other thing that happened was at the London Book Fair. The report, Writing the Future: Black and Asian Writers and Publishers in the UK Market Place, received backing from The Society of Authors and HarperCollins for greater cultural diversity across the publishing industry.
This is what was said:

John Athanasiou, director of people, HarperCollins Publishing, said:
"Publishing houses, like most industry sectors, are waking up to the business and ethical purpose and benefits of diversity. At HarperCollins, we have started the journey of changing the culture to one of inclusion for our employees, authors and consumers alike. This will help support more diversity in our acquisition of authors and content. It's a big job, but we are not afraid to ask for help or to work in partnership with others.

Nicola Solomon, chief executive, Society of Authors, said:
Publishers have a need to be relevant and attract readers to ensure their own survival. A publishing industry which does not reflect society fails writers, readers and itself.”

Sue Lawther, director of Spread the Word, added:
At Spread the Word we are already planning follow up work with BAME writers. We will share our findings more widely and intend to mobilise writers to make their voices heard. We will also be talking to influencers and decision-makers in the publishing industry, to see how we can work together, with the support of funding bodies, such as Arts Council England.”

You can read the full report, Writing the Future: Black and Asian Writers and Publishers in the UK Market Place - HERE

Good intentions are, well, good. Recognising and acknowledging there is a problem is good too. Beginning a dialogue, spreading the word about it is a step forward. Rosie asked me for my reflection on #diverseauthorday, and this is what I said:

The success of #diverseauthorday was best illustrated by the fact that the hash-tag was trending on Twitter. It was a clear indication of the number of people who felt that there was something missing in the books they find in bookshops and in libraries. That something is the absence of 'otherness', or the under-representation of black, asian, minority ethnic, (BAME), LGBT, and disabled characters in contemporary fiction. There is clearly an overwhelming need and desire for greater inclusiveness, and I'm not talking about the type of books which simply nod in the direction of diversity with all its outdated racial stereo-typing. That kind of box-ticking is not what diversity means.
But is anyone listening?
The publishing industry is 97% white. Who's looking into the mirror they're holding up?

Until they know the answer, will anything change? Let's hope.

My website -

Sunday, 4 October 2015

If 80% of 'Young Adult' books are bought by adults, should we keep the label? - David Thorpe

Did you know that 80% of Young Adult (YA) books are bought by adults? Why do you think this is? And what does this mean for the future of this label, for publishers and readers? As a writer of books for young adults, who has just completed what might be described as a young adult/crossover novel, this subject interests me intensely.

Some fascinating insights into children's book reading habits and book sales were recently revealed by market research company Nielsen Books at its second annual Children’s Book Summit at Convene, NYC, on September 15. Before moving on to a discussion of the YA label, here are some key other points:

BOOK SALES UP: For the time period between January 2014 to September 2015, children’s book sales were up 12.6% in the U.S., 28% in Brazil, and 10% in China, with 11 of the 20 bestselling books in the U.S. being children’s titles.

TABLET READING AGE DOWN: The spread into households of tablets and other digital devices has meant that children start reading e-books from the age of five, rather than seven previously. And, children from as young as a year-and-a-half are using tablets and engaging with content.

PRINT BOOK SALES UP: But this does not seem to be harming the sales of printed books: board book sales have grown by 20% over the last three years. Only 10% of children's books were e-books compared to 19% of all books in the last quarter of 2014.

MANY YOUNGER READERS SEEM TO PREFER PRINT OVER DIGITAL: There was speculation over why: Kristin McLean, Nielsen Book’s Director of New Business Development, said: "Partly they like to share them. Teens also like to carry books around, show off what they’re reading. Partly because [print books are] easier to get without a credit card, they like to use the library."

THERE ARE INTERESTING VARIATIONS AROUND THE WORLD: Mostly children's book publishing takes around 34% of all book sales on average around the world, a striking exception being in Australia and New Zealand where it is almost 50%. (What that says about adult reading habits is not mentioned, although it is mentioned that print sales of adult fiction and non-fiction have dropped in the US while the juvenile market has concomitantly grown 40% in the last decade. It's the categories of religion, today's and non-fiction that have seen the greater increase in sales and surprisingly e-books are down 14% this year so far.


MORE BOOKS ARE BEING BOUGHT ONLINE: With the demise of the Borders chain, sales in chains generally are down too. Sales from independent bookstores are stable but sales from school book clubs have increased.

5-8 IS THE BEST SELLING AGE GROUP: The most important age group for children's books in terms of market share was 5-8, accounting for 38% of sales to all children.

The Curious Case  of the Young Adult Label

Then the event came to the topic that interests me most. As we found out, rather surprisingly, earlier this year, a staggering 80% of all YA books that are selling are not being bought by teenagers but by adults.

To find out why this is happening, Nielsen asked a panel of eight adult consumers of young adult novels. They "seemed to suggest that the YA label can be limiting", they reported. YA isn't a genre, it's an age designation, so it doesn't help to say what the book is about.

But one member of the panel, a mother of two teenagers, said it was a useful label when trying to identify books that were appropriate for her children.

Many of these readers come across the books in bookshops, attracted by the cover design, or by hearing of movie in TV adaptations, through the Internet via GoodReads and twitter.

They overwhelmingly prefer fiction. And, their motivation for reading is that they enjoy getting into the character's head and growing along with them. One panellist said the YA label should be changed to YAH – Young at Heart. I find this patronising. I don't think it will catch on!

But the fact that she said this is illuminating. It tells us why older people are reading books for teenagers: they are still asking the questions and trying to understand the changes that are supposed to only happen during teen years. Maybe what it says is that we never stop growing up, contrary to how we are supposed to feel as adults.

Nielsen also brought along a panel of suburban teenagers who also had something to say about the label YA, namely that they don't take much notice of it because it doesn't say what kind of a book it is. Instead they are definitely attracted by movie releases when choosing what to read, as well as the Internet and Amazon's suggested books feature and Wattpad.

So where does this leave YA? I don't think it's going to go away any time soon, since it does help books to reach a market. But if we write is no most of our readers aren't even going to be teenagers but older, this should liberate us to write about more adult subjects and help us be less reticent about using certain kind of language. In other words, we can let our imaginations go further.

I very much like this idea.

Below, find some more infographics from the presentations.

How readers find books:

David Thorpe is the writer of the Sci-Fi YA novel Hybrids and the cli-fi YA novel Stormteller.

Saturday, 3 October 2015



 I packed my bag on the Friday and headed to Bath Spa station to get the train to Tenby in Pembrokeshire. I was off to stay with friend, author and Tenby Book Fair organiser Judith Barrow.

I lived there for seven years and my last Middle Grade mystery "The Shiver Stone" is set on this coastline.

Tenby is a delightful, picturesque harbour town and seaside resort surrounded by beautiful beaches. It’s also rich in history with its walled town and cobbled streets.

Tenby Harbour

Early on the gloriously sunny Saturday morning we met up with sixteen other authors and began setting up in the church hall. It was a colourful affair - tables stacked with books from many different genres ensured a variety of covers, posters and banners. Sci-Fi nudged shoulders with Romance, Poetry cosied up to family sagas and thrillers nestled next to local history.

From the minute the doors opened people flooded in. The warm weather ensured that the town was bustling with tourists and locals and many of them came to browse, buy books and engage with the authors.

Midway there were poetry readings and then Janet Thomas of Firefly Press and I handed out prizes to the winners of the “my favourite book” essay - a competition held in conjunction with local schools.

The event was professionally filmed by showboat tv – and there’s a short video here if you fancy a peep:

The Tenby Book Fair was a great success - it was buzzing and busy and there was plenty of good-humoured camaraderie. I thoroughly enjoyed my day and I’ve already signed up for next year.