Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Introverts R Us - Tamsyn Murray

My name is Tamsyn and I am an introvert.

It took me a long time to realise this, mostly because I am also (for want of a better phrase) a bit of a show-off. I used to put my hand up when I knew the answer at school. I do am-dram, which involves singing and dancing and acting, sometimes in lead roles, in front of hundreds of people. Since I became a writer, the performer in me has been even busier, because what are school visits if not extended performances? I can do interviews for TV, and smile and chat to people I've only just met in social situations, make small talk without any apparent paroxysms of terror. How can I do all of that and not be an extrovert?

It took one of those lists you see popping up on Facebook every now and then to teach me the truth about my nature. Things You Should Know About Introverts*, it said. And I thought that as a writer, I knew plenty of introverted people so maybe it was worth a read.

Point 1 made me pause: We need to recharge alone. I do, I thought. In fact, there's nothing I cherish more than a bit of alone time (although alone time = working time for me because alone time is a rare commodity) and I constantly feel I don't have enough of it. And certainly after an event of some kind, what I yearn for most is to be on my own. Hmmm.

Point 2: We don’t hate being around people, but we probably hate crowds. I thought about this for a while because I wouldn't say I hate crowds but I don't love them either. Unless it's a festival crowd, in which case I love them all. But I do quite often feel overwhelmed by crowds - the urge to go and find a quiet place to sit is strong (or sometimes even to go home) and I get around this by starting random conversations with people. This is a trick I have learned and I almost always enjoy the conversation.

Number 3: We don’t mind silence.This one depends on the silence. I had a boss once who used to come and sit in my office and say nothing. Those were not good silences and I would say anything to fill them (which resulted in more silences because I had said something stupid.) But there's nothing wrong with a companionable silence.

And point 4: Just because we are introverted doesn’t mean we are shy. Very few people would describe me as shy. But by the time I read this one I was starting to realise that there was a good possibility I was an introvert.

Number 5: We can turn on an extroverted personality when necessary, but it is especially draining. This was a clincher for me - I know I do this. When I'm in a crowd and I want to talk to people because I feel uncomfortable (point 2) I switch on. Or for a performance. Actually, being extroverted is a lot like acting, except that I'm just being a much brighter version of myself instead of playing another character. And afterwards I am invariably exhausted.

Point 6 was: We aren’t judging you. And again, this depends on the situation. If you are supporting UKIP then I am judging you pretty hard.

7 made me cringe in shame because I know I do this: We secretly love it when you cancel plans. It doesn't mean I don't like you, it just means I don't have to be switched on.

Number 8: We can get very wrapped up in our own thoughts. AKA Daydreaming. Thinking time. Plotting. So I'm not ignoring you, honestly. I might just have forgotten you are there.

At number 9 we had: We can be pretty bad at connecting. And I wondered about this because I think I am good at connecting. Then I realised it's because I am good at listening - I like hearing other people's stories. And as luck would have it, listening means I have to talk less.

In at number 10 was: We don’t like to hang around. I decided this one depended on the situation. If I'm comfortable somewhere then it can be hard to get rid of me. But in a crowd situation when I've been switched on for a while, an unguarded exit can be too difficult to resist.

The last point was: We have strong opinions. And I decided this wasn't an introvert or an extrovert thing, because almost everyone I know has strong opinions about some things. Writers in particular have strong opinions - why else would we write?

So on balance, I decided that I'm an introvert. And it's nice to know finally that it's OK to want to be alone, to enjoy being on my own. Many of my writer friends are great to be around because they know how that feels, because they are introverts too. But ultimately, I'm not sure it really matters what you are, except that it feels good to know even when I'm alone, I'm not really.

*Things You Should Know About Introverts taken from http://playfullytacky.com/

Monday, 24 November 2014

Bring Me The Teenagers - Liz Kessler

I guess this blog might be continuing that theme in a way. It’s about social networking. Only, this time, I want to pick your brains.

Next May, I make my YA debut with my novel Read Me Like A Book (which, incidentally, I just received the bound proofs for, and I am completely IN LOVE with this cover, designed and painted by my very talented artist friend Joe Greenaway.

This book is HUGELY important to me and I want to do everything I can to give it a good send off into the world. Because this is a brand new tack for me, I’ll be doing a lot of things differently. I’m already fairly active on Twitter and Facebook – and I do my monthly blog here – but there are all sorts on online hangouts that I know almost nothing about – and I think it’s time to get educated.

Currently, I use my author page on Facebook to write about my books, post lots of photos of sunrises and my dog and the sea, and have lovely chitchat about mermaids and faires and time travel, mainly with my readers, their parents, a few librarians and a bunch of supportive friends. On Twitter, it feels much more about chatting with my writing peers – other writers, bloggers, bookshop people etc. Think publishing party, only without getting drunk on free champagne and making a fool of yourself in front of the MD.

So that’s all well and good, and I enjoy it. But I want to spread my writerly wings. In particular, I want to talk to teenagers – and I don’t know where to find them!

So this is a question aimed mainly at teenagers, parents of teenagers, writers of books for teenagers who interact online…

Where are you? Where do you hang out? Which are your favourite online haunts? And what do look for or expect from in the different places you frequent?

I take a LOT of photos, and should probably be on Instagram. (In fact, I kind of am but I don’t really use it.) I have been told I should get onto Tumblr – and would love to go for it, but every time I glance at it, I feel overwhelmed and bewildered. I’m also kind of half-heartedly on Pinterest, but only so I can look for desks for my new office. And I have got a few videos on Youtube.

The thing is, though, when we try to keep up to date with ALL the places, there’s no time left to, well, you know, write the books. Which I kind of need to keep doing. So I don’t want to join them all. But I’d like to pick the best one (or at most, two) new social networking sites and give them a good go.

So, help me out here. What should I pick? What do you use? Where are my potential new teenage audience most likely to look for me? Any and all opinions on these questions will be gratefully received.

Thank you! :)

Follow Liz on Twitter
Join Liz's Facebook page

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Verne in Vigo - Maeve Friel

I love coming across literary sculptures, whether they are the slew of Paddington Bears which recently appeared in London, a dapper James Joyce leaning on his cane on Earl Street in Dublin or Don Quijote and Sancho Panza trotting through the Plaza España in Madrid.

This curious monument of a man sitting amid the tentacles of a giant octopus is also a literary monument. It is in Vigo, in Galicia in North-Western Spain - but what is it?

It is a homage to the French novelist Jules Verne, often described as the inventor of the genre of science fiction, and to the Galician references in his much-loved adventure Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. 

First of all, the sculpture reminds us of the terrifying chapter in which Captain Nemo and the crew of the submarine Nautilus are attacked by giant squid, as in the English translation, or more correctly by giant octopus (les poulpes, in French). Galicia, renowned for spectacular seafood, is particularly in thrall to the octopus and Pulpo a feira, octopus in the style of the fair,  is its signature dish - boiled in huge cauldrons by the pulpeiras, specialist octopus cooks, the tentacles snipped up with massive scissors and sprinkled with olive oil and pimentón.

But there is another chapter of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea which takes place right in the Ría de Vigo, the Bay of Vigo. This was the real life location of a major naval disaster in 1702 when English ships burnt and scuttled the French and Spanish fleets which were returning from the Caribbean laden with treasure from the New World. In the novel, Captain Nemo comes to Vigo to loot the ships´treasure.

Around the Nautilus for a half-mile radius, the waters seemed saturated with electric light. The sandy bottom was clear and bright. Dressed in diving suits, crewmen were busy clearing away half-rotted barrels and disemboweled trunks in the midst of the dingy hulks of ships. Out of these trunks and kegs spilled ingots of gold and silver, cascades of jewels, pieces of eight. The sand was heaped with them. Then, laden with these valuable spoils, the men returned to the Nautilus, dropped off their burdens inside, and went to resume this inexhaustible fishing for silver and gold.
I understood. This was the setting of that battle on October 22, 1702. Here, in this very place, those galleons carrying treasure to the Spanish government had gone to the bottom. Here, whenever he needed, Captain Nemo came to withdraw these millions to ballast his Nautilus. It was for him, for him alone, that America had yielded up its precious metals. He was the direct, sole heir to these treasures wrested from the Incas and those peoples conquered by Hernando Cortez!

Don´t miss the monument to M. Verne if you are visiting this less well known corner of Spain, a place redolent with stories of shipwrecks, smugglers, fishermen´s tales and foot-weary pilgrims, the furious music of bagpipes and an all-pervading smell of octopus and sizzling sardines.  And of course, I recommend that you read the book too!


Saturday, 22 November 2014


(This post appeared first on a blog called The Great British Bookshop. I'm very grateful to them for permission to publish it here again. Adele Geras)

It's been nearly eight years since I published a novel for adults. This is not because I've been lying around on sofas, eating peeled grapes, but because things have got in the way of my writing. These are both personal (moving from Manchester to Cambridge after living in the former for 46 years, my husband's last illness and death and so forth) and professional.
I haven't been idle.  Children's books have appeared during this time, but since A Hidden Life, I haven't published a novel for adults. And that's mainly because this particular novel, Cover your Eyes, has given me more trouble in the writing than any other of my books.  On the face of it, there's no obvious reason for this. I had the germ of the story right from the beginning, but in the first and second drafts and the subsequent fiddlings and fossickings that went on once the novel had actually been written, there were many different things to get right.
The first was that I needed to create convincing voices and stories for each of my heroines.  I like having more than one heroine in my books, and I enjoy going from one point of view to the other. Perhaps this is to stop myself from becoming tired of the single vision throughout, but it's also I think, (and hope!) a way of appealing to readers of different ages. The first thing you have to get right is the language. I made the decision early on to have Megan's sections in the first person, and that meant that the words had to be ones that were suitable for a young woman of 29. Eva's part of the story is in the third person, (a sort of modified form, which is really her point of view).
Also, I enjoy writing about the past. I blog on a site called The History Girls, which is for writers of historical fiction, and I count myself as one of those.  I like going back in time and to this end, I have always put a character who is about 75 or 80 years old in my novels to provide a view of the past. In my first adult novel, Facing the Light, (now only available as an e book from Quercus) the whole action of the novel takes place during the 75th birthday celebrations of my heroine, Leonora. Her memories of childhood, and of being young and middle-aged were layered into the narrative, and I wrote all seven of these 'past' bits first, before writing the rest of the book. I then slotted them into their appropriate positions at the end.
In Cover your Eyes, my elderly heroine is Eva, and she came to England in 1938 on the Kindertransport.  She has a secret that she has revealed to no one, and she is haunted, quite literally, by a ghost about whom she has never said a word.  She used to be a famous dress designer and she meets the other heroine of the novel, who's a journalist, when the latter (Megan), comes to interview her for a fashion magazine.  Eva's narrative is intercut with memories of times from her past, in the manner that I used in Facing the Light, but in this novel, I wrote the sections in the past as I went along.  Megan is recovering from being dumped by her married lover. Eva is sad because her beautiful home, Salix House, is going to be sold.  Stuff happens, and Megan ends up living in Eva's house, where she becomes aware of a certain strangeness - she sees and hears things that she can't explain.
I won't say more; I don't like spoiling the plot, but I hope that everyone who reads the book enjoys it. It went through several incarnations because it's very hard to weave a supernatural element into a typical 'women's fiction' story. I hope that there are things in this book which resonate with lovers of historical fiction* too. Even though only small sections of the actual story take place in the past, I like to think that what happened to Eva when she was four and came to England for the first time, tinges the book and gives it its flavour, rather like the Angostura in a drink of gin and bitters.
 * I have also written a children's book about the Kindertransport, called A Candle in the Dark, published by A&C Black, which is suitable for readers of seven and upwards.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Wilde Wisdom - Joan Lennon

I admit it - until now, I'd never read The Picture of Dorian Gray.  Oh, I knew, more or less, the plot.  But when I needed to read Oscar Wilde's horror story for a novel I'm just starting to write, there wasn't a handy copy in the house, so I got it (for free) as part of a kindle Penny Dreadful multi-pack - including The Horrors of Zindorf Castle AND Jack Harkaway and His Son's Adventures in Australia, which, co-incidentally, I also didn't own.

But did you know The Picture of Dorian Gray was first published in this magazine in 1890?  

In full.  Plus a Preface.  Plus a whole bunch of other fiction and articles and biography and - I'd love to read this bit - 8 pages With the Wits (illustrated by leading artists).  How's that for 25 cents?  

But here's what I want to post about.  What Oscar Wilde said, in his Preface, about critics and criticism, because it is both a witticism and a balm.  He said:

"... the lowest form of criticism is a mode of autobiography.  Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming.  This is a fault."

Is it merely an elegant way of saying, "Aw, poop, they're just jealous"?  I don't care.  Next bad review any of us gets, I recommend this as our mantra.  All together now ...

This is a fault.  

Joan Lennon's website.
Joan Lennon's blog.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Reading Trees - Lucy Coats

This is not a post about the OUP reading scheme. No. My reading trees are more of the green and leafy variety. As I sit now, watching the last leaves of autumn fall, I remember the sinking feeling I used to get as a child at this time of year, when I realised that my reading trees - a solace and refuge - would have to be left till the following spring. Naked and bare of foliage, they were no longer places I could hide with a book. 

Ingredients for the perfect reading tree:
1 climbable tree
1 cushion
1 comfortable fork with branch footstool and trunk backrest
1 unputdownable book
enough green leaves to hide under

In these less agile days of middle-age, I prefer a slung hammock, but when I was younger and bendier, climbing trees with a book was my perfect escape from weeding the strawberry beds, or lugging bales of straw and slopping buckets of water over countless fields, or any other undesirable job my parents could dream up for an idle, book-loving child.

My first climbing choice of inside the laurel clump made a springy green cave smelling of rich, rotting evergreen humus and was not terribly satisfactory as a perch, being rather unstable and drippy when it rained, as well as dark and bad for the eyes. 

The Victoria plum tree was good in the spring and early autumn but not in the summer when the wasps attacked the ripening plums and anything else in reach. It was also, latterly, near the bonfire, which meant that I read with smarting, smoke-filled eyes when the wind was in the wrong direction. 

The right hand of the twin chestnuts on the boundary had a wide horizontal and almost flat branch which was great for reading and also for lying and spying on the house (and on the next-door neighbours in their thatched cottage), hiding me from sight entirely. But when new neighbours moved in, less short-sighted and tolerant than old Mr and Mrs Smith, Complaints Were Made, and I was banned from climbing it on pain of dire punishment. A nosy child (I confess I did have a pair of binoculars on occasion) was not welcome, despite my protestations of innocence and the waving of books as proof.

It was the old cherry in the part of the garden where nobody went, just by the dogs' graves, which was best. That was where I stashed my rope ladder, and found a perfect snug fork just at the right angle for leaning against. It was there that I devoured R.M. Ballantyne's The Coral Island as well as Swiss Family Robinson, (the latter being especially suitable for treetop reading) among many others. The lullaby of the creaking branches, the wind, the rustle of pointed leaves, the occasional adventurous woodpigeon or little brown bird landing above my head, these were the sounds that informed my early reading life. Hammocks are good, but trees are the real thing. 

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

FUN with books and reading - it's the Kids' Lit Quiz - Linda Strachan

Every year around this time New Zealand Quizmaster the inexhaustible Wayne Mills arrives for the start of the UK heats of the Kids' Lit Quiz  - and he runs an amazing 18 heats in under 4 weeks.  The first heat this year was a new one in East Midlands, and today it will be the turn of the 8th UK heat at Yorkshire's King James School, Knaresborough.

KLQ Quizmaster Wayne Mills awarded
 Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit 
KLQ is a competition for children aged 10-13 with ten rounds of questions each with a different theme and a opportunity for the teams to choose one round as their joker (double points)  all the questions are book related and vary in difficulty.

Wayne writes all the questions himself, and when you consider there are 100 questions in each heat, it is quite a feat, as he never asks a question unless he has read the book!

In school teams of four and a max of two teams per school, they compete against other schools in their region. I am always amazed by what the teams can answer and having been on an author team myself many times, it can be taxing.  

I think the young competitors often surprise themselves by what they know, but most of all they have a great time.  I love having the chance to chat to the teams before it starts and during the break, when the competitors have a chance to buy books and come to get them signed by the authors who attend the quiz.

Wayne offers spot prizes for teams or for individual competitors, and there are also longer questions in between rounds, sometimes taken from the more difficult World Final questions of the year before.

The teams are often very close in points and it is hard to describe the level of enthusiasm for the quiz and the excitement in the room.  Teams of authors, teachers and librarians often compete for the fun of it, and it can become quite competitive!
Winning team at  KLQ NE - Hexham Middle School A 
This year I have been on two author teams, in Newcastle NE England heat which was once again organised by Trevor and Diane.
With fellow Author's team member Lucy Coats

Lucy Coats and I seconded the very knowledgeable Steve onto our team.
Steve was running the bookshop for Seven Stories, National Centre for Children's Books.
After a very competitive quiz we were beaten by the librarians ... by half a mark!

I was also delighted to be at the East of Scotland Heat which was held at Liberton High School in Edinburgh, organised by their excellent librarian, Christine Babbs.
I am Patron of Reading for Liberton High so it was great to be there to welcome the teams for the Quiz.

Fellow authors Matt Cartney and Keith Charters were on the author team and we were surprised but delighted to discover that we had beaten the teachers' team, but as always the kids were the real stars of the day!  

With matt Cartney and winners of KLQ Central Scotland - St Thomas of Aquins B
Already these and other winning teams from this year's heats are preparing for the trip to the UK final which will be held in Kings College School, London on 4th December 2014.

But the most exciting prize on offer, and any one of the competing teams can win it, is the trip to the World Final.

The winners of the UK national final will travel to the World final to be held in Connecticut USA in the summer of 2015.
There they will be taken about on a wonderful week of experiences as well as competing with and getting to know the other national teams from schools around the world.  New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, USA, China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia, all have teams competing for a chance to win the KLQ World Final.

If you are a teacher or librarian why not find out more about the quiz and how you and your school can get involved. Authors contact your local quiz organiser (all enthusiastic volunteers!) and come along and take part in this amazing quiz that has got hundreds of young people all over the world sharing their enthusiasm for books and reading!

You can follow the heats on Wayne's blog  http://kidslitquiz.blogspot.co.uk/ and find out all about the quiz and see sample questions on the website  http://www.kidslitquiz.com/

The KLQ is a not for profit and is  run by volunteers. They are always looking for sponsors so if you think you would like to support it do get in touch.

Linda Strachan is the author of over 60 books for all ages from picture books to teenage novels and the writing handbook Writing For Children.

Linda's latest YA novel is Don't Judge Me  
she is Patron of Reading to Liberton High School, Edinburgh.

Her best selling series Hamish McHaggis is illustrated by Sally J. Collins who also illustrated Linda's retelling of Greyfriars Bobby

website:  www.lindastrachan.com
blog:  Bookwords