The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Chrysalids

Oh Dear. I liked Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls very much. A super story and lovely sensitive writing. So I decided to read The Knife of Never Letting Go in the hope of more of the same but, oh dear!

Now, those of you who actually know me or who have looked at my pictures on this site will understand that I am not in the first flush of youth and, because of that I am aware of the super series of post apocalyptic books written by John Wyndham in the 1950s. You’ve probably heard of The Day of the Triffids, maybe The Midwich Cuckoos and the Kraken Wakes, perhaps even The Trouble with Lichen but My favourite was always The Chrysalids.

This is the story of a boy who can read other people’s thoughts. David, for he is that boy has to run away from the super religeous place where he lives because others want to kill him. He runs off with a girl into an area which is considered to be a wilderness. There’s an old woman called Harriet, and there’s Labrador and…well, I think you get my drift.

Surely I couldn’t be the only one to have noticed this.

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That’s it. All over.

Summer I mean, what there was of it. But now its chilly and the days are shorter there is little excuse  for those of us who work at home; we have just got to get on with it.

I’m reminded of that lovely actor Christopher Reeve. Remember him? Superman. He had a dreadful accident falling from a horse I think which left him completely, physically disabled for the rest of his foreshortened life. But that’s not why I remember him.

Like me, he was a keen yachtie and owned a lovely boat. No surprise there! Anyway, once he became famous he told his agent he would work as long and as hard as required on any project that seemed good and paid well provided, he was not required to do anything during the sailing season. Once the sun shone and the wind was right he decamped to his boat and headed south. End of. Studios could call, offer money, plead, threaten, made no difference. He was on his boat being a sailor. He left the actor Christopher Reeve on the landing stage and would be back to climb into that skin once the autumn (fall?) came. A very wise man.

You see the comparison though. He was famous, wealthy, talented, good looking and a keen sailor. And me? I’m a keen sailor too but now the summer has gone, like Superman its back to work with a vengeance. No checking the synoptic charts, searching for a break in the weather. No ‘Just nipping down to the boat to check her over’ and not coming back for a week or two. As a writing friend of mine (Chris Stovell) says when asked how to write a book: Apply bum to seat and get on with it.

Watch out seat-incoming bum!

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OK- Summer’s over

That’s if it ever began but now its back to work with a vengeance.
I often think of an interview I heard with the late actor Christopher Reeve before his accident. Like me he was a keen yachtsman and used to tell his agent to only accept work outside the sailing season. During the summer he spent as much time on his boat as possible then acted away like fury in the winter to make money for more sailing the following year.
Sensible bloke.
Although not (quite) Superman I subscribe to the same view so now its full speed writing. I’ll post something about the new project soon.

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Who needs ’em?

There is always a time to discard hardened attitudes and recently, I have come to the conclusion that one of my overiding prejudices has to go. Ever since I started writing novels and that, dear reader is over thirty years ago, there is one thing I have believed with an unshakable faith. Indeed, when I was reading for my MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University some ten years ago, that this belief was reinforced almost weekly.

It was a fairly common occurance for we students to be called to attend talks and presentations from a rather superior breed of people known as Literary Agents. They would routinely patronise us, tell us what a privilege it was for us to receive the pearls of wisdom that dropped from their lips and how unlikely it would be that any of us would ever be published. If however, we were to be so fortunate we should never, ever forget what an honour it would be to have one of their number making it all posssible.

I had been sending off packages of my purple prose to these Gods for many years, only to have them returned, normally without comment. Quite often they just disappeared, never to be seen again. Obviously beneath contempt. So, when I completed my Dodger’s Lot and sent it off, three chapters, synopsis and CV in the manner prescribed by the Deities I was completely taken aback when an agent actually called me on the telephone and asked to see the whole book. A week later, another phone call: I’d like to sign you up. Wow! Could I have been wrong all these years?

Sadly, no I wasn’t. Eighteen months, the thick end of a thousand quid spent and the book went unsold and in my view, badly compromised. A row ensued and I was once again agent free. You see, I was right all along.

I gave up sending stuff out to agents and decided to enter competitions instead. One, to try to make a few quid in prize money and two, to see if people really liked reading my stories. Some success followed but no offers of publication.

Then I entered my book Boonie for a competition called Undiscovered Voices run by  an indefatigable and unerringly enthusiastic bunch of volunteers called SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). Joy upon joy, Boonie was selected as one of the winners and the opening chapters were published in an anthology. Seven, yes Seven agents rushed to sign me up, three of whom had already rejected the book when it had been sent to them previously! But a lovely and dare I say perceptive publisher, none other than the famous Hot Key Books offered me a contract which I grabbed with both hands. So you see, you don’t need an agent do you?

Er, well, and this is where I take a large slice of humble pie, actually you do. While dealing with the various editors at Hot Key and knocking Boonie into shape I was often preoccupied with negotiating the points of the contract with my editor in chief, Sara O’Connor. Fortunately, she was very understanding but I wouldnt want to do it again. I don’t think friendship and contract negotiating mix very well and I’d rather be friends with Sara than constantly on the other side of the negotiating table.

And another thing. One book is not a career and if Hot Key don’t want my next book I’m back to square one.

So, as the founding member and Life President of the Triple A, B (All Agents Are B******s) Society I have taken the plunge. In the process of going through the Undiscovered Voices thing I met a lady who not only liked my writing but seemed very much to share my interests and ambitions. I’ve waited a long time, which says a lot for her calm demeanour and understanding but I have finally signed up to be represented by Anna Power of Johnson & Alcock.  I’m really flattreed that Anna has taken such an interest in my work and am really quite excited about the future. With Sara and now Anna helping me, how can I fail?

So, agents, who needs ’em? Er, I do actually.

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Childrens’ Books

Unsurprisingly, as I write for young adults I tend to read the current crop of childrens’ books. As a boy I read Biggles, Greyfriars stuff, Enid Blyton Five and Seven books and Jennings. Then there were the classics of which my favourite by far was Treasure Island but any rip-roaring adventure was eagerly consumed.

But what of today’s stuff? I have to admit I read with a too critical eye which often stops me truly enjoying the story. I’m too concious of style and language I suppose. I’ve read Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Trilogy and am working my way through Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games books, both obviously very good examples of ‘proper’ writing for young adults. I don’t have the courage (or patience) I suspect to try much else.

I have recently read Out of Shadows by Jason Wallace because I have an interest in Zimbabwe and finished up wondering why it was so highly praised. Revolver by Marcus Sedgewick was OK but a bit lightweight. I enjoyed Unwind by Neal Shusterman but my pleasure was blunted when I realised I’d heard it on the radio so knew what was coming.

Next stop will be Angel Dust by Sarah Mussi, due out this month I think and then, with a deep breath I’m going to try Insignia by S.J.Kincaid. I’d better get my skates on though because in between all this reading I’m writing a new Y.A. book myself.

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Beam me up Scotty

You remember what Captain Kirk used to say? Well, I’m beginning to understand how he felt.

You may have seen or at least heard of the performing dog that won the TV show Britain’s Got Talent. I didn’t see it myself but the media’s fascination with trivia has made sure that this vital news is now engraved deep into my brain. Now, no doubt the young lady who  trained the dog worked hard at her trade but what she achieved was, after all, only a clever dog.

There was another programme on TV at about the same time as BGT called BBC Young Musician of the Year. It’s on every year (obviously) and even if you are not a follower of classical music you cannot fail to be impressed with the young people on show and their skills, achieved through God given talent, dedication and hard work throughout most of their young lives.

Now, imagine a youngster pondering on his/her life plan. What to do? Train a clever dog or dedicate your life to musical excellence? Well, listen carefully my young friend, here’s a tip for you. The girl with the dog received half a million quid for her efforts; the musician, who incidentally is called Laura van der Heijden and plays the cello like an angel, got £2000.

Unfair? Of course but so what? I’ll tell you so what? Have a glance around this site and you’ll notice that I try to write a bit. I beaver away at my desk, day after day, year after year in the fervent hope that, apart from enticing a few young people to read and enjoy what I do, that I might also make a meagre living out of it. OK, that’s your choice, you may say but what have performing dogs and cellists got to do with anything? Well, I’ll tell you.

I don’t know if anybody has asked Laura to write about her life as a young cellist but what I do know is the the dog, the bloody dog mind you has just been given a £100,000 book deal!

To complete Kirk’s message when calling the mother ship from some previously undiscovered world:

‘Beam me up Scotty,’ he’d sigh. ‘There’s no intelligent life down here.’

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Phew, got an email today from the Editorial Director at Hot Key telling me she has passed the final, final, final edit on to one of her staff who will take the project on to print.
That may not sound much but it means, I think, that apart from a few minor tweaks and twitches ‘Boonie’ should now be in its final form.
It’s a stressful process editing your own book. I’ve done it for others but didnt realise quite how difficult it is to chop lumps out of your own purple prose.
Its a bit like showing the world your lovely new baby, everybody telling you how lovely it is, perfect in almost every way then someone suggesting that if you hack off one of its legs, poke out an eye and slice off its left ear, you know, it might be even better.
But there we are and I have given in to most suggestions by the editorial team because, I am prepared to accept that they know better than I what makes a successful book. (Blogging through gritted teeth here)
OK, OK, some of the changes have made it a better book, I’ll admit that.
So, save up your pennies everybody and be ready to splash out on a nice hardback edition of Boonie. It’s due out in January 2013 so you’ve got lots of time to save up.

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Its a woman’s world.

Writing that is. Women have certainly dominated the business over recent years haven’t they? Read down the staff list of any agency, publisher or even your favourite magazine title and you will find that the majority of names are female.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t have an issue with this. If a woman warrants the job she should have it although, as with men in earlier times one gets the impression that women hire women and men hire men so the phenomenon is likely to grow until the pendulum swings again.

What I do have an issue with is Women only things. A friend of mine is a writer for a successful press in Wales called Honno who, I see from Bookbrunch today are celebrating their 25th Anniversary. They were set up by a group of women to promote writing by Welsh women although I have to tell you that my friend is not, to the best of my knowledge actually Welsh! Good luck to them of course, it’s their business but it seems contrary to current legislation to restrict  opportunities to just half the population. I’m sure there must be loads of really good Welsh men writers looking for a break.

So, the Honno case is no big deal really but what about The Orange Prize for Fiction? This is the most valuable book prize in the UK and is restricted to women writers only. And how about Virago, the mainstream women only publishers?

I rather thought we had gone past this sort of sex discrimination but all that seems to have happened is that the discrimination has become anti-male. I readily admit that in the past it was more difficult for women to break through but I don’t see that sex exclusivity is the right way to go about  creating true equality.

So come on Orange, Virago, Honno and the rest of you. Move into the 21st Century and let’s all have a fair crack of the whip. Two wrongs you know, have never made a right.

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Mo and Edgar

You’ve heard of the Oscars, you’ve heard of the Tonys but have you ever heard of the Edgars?
No? Well let me enlighten you. The Edgars are a really prestigeous literary award in the USA and the reason I bring them up now is that somebody I used to know has just won the Edgar for Fiction. She is Mo Hayder and her winning book is called Gone. Ms Hayder is the author of any number of gruesome crime books, probably best known for ‘Birdman.’ Mo, for I shall call her that despite it being her Nom de Plume was on the same Creative Writing course as me and a thoroughly nice person she was too. Most unlike how you would imagine her if you read any of her books.
But why Edgars? They are named after Edgar Allan Poe, a literary giant of the Americas. A bit odd perhaps but better than calling them the Poes I suppose.
Anyway, well done Mo.

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May Day

Its the first of May so where are all the maypoles? Used to be that Pathe News always showed little children garlanded with wild flowers weaving intricate patterns with their ribbons at this time of year. Then, courtesy of the now defunct and not much late-lamented Soviet Union we had images of tanks and missiles trundling through the streets of Moscow. I also recall Harold Wilson making Mayday some sort of Socialist holiday.
So what do we have now? Nothing as far as I can see. In these days of National Sausage Day, Free the World from Antidisestablishmentareanism Month and the like it would be nice to have the old maypole back don’t you think? On the other hand I suppose if I went to watch the little kiddies cavorting on the village green I’d be photographed, DNA’d and filed under some Agatha’s Law or the other as a potential paediphile ( I always think that sounds like one of those smart little books Yuppies carried around back in the distant past.)
Maybe its best we have nothing after all.

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