Sunday, 26 August 2018

The Song of Somewhere Else by A/F. Harrold and Levi Pinfold


Key Stage 2, fluent reader, junior school / teens, ages 9-11, crossover   

This is a slightly puzzling book. It seems to be a book for the fluent reader at the end of junior school. Yet it contains elements for other age groups. 

It certainly has a nice fat spine and uses blocked text which suggests the fluent reader.  It also uses a serif font and includes difficult a and g which again is normal for this reader.  

It makes a concession to the new reader by containing a double-spaced text.

As in picture books for the pre-school child, the pictures add to the story, although they are in black and white and are more sophisticated than they would be for the younger child. Pictures are clearly important in this book; it was shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway prize in 2018. The text also included quite a few decorative elements. Some of the pictures, however, are very dark ,  e.g. the double spreads on pages 116-17 and 162-3, and this brings it back up into the older age group.       
There are elements also that suggest a teen reader. The protagonist reasons logically – is she in   Piaget’s formal operations stage? She behaves like a teenager. She is reluctant to tell her father about her day at school. Bullying is a teen theme. 

The children are left home alone so there is plenty of opportunity for them to have their adventure on their own.  

It includes high fantasy elements – including a troll mother and a talking cat. Shades of Alice? 

 Bordering on horror? We are also treated to the mystery woman – the agent of Extra-Existent affairs.

Being by Kevin Brooks


Keys Stage 3, Key Stage 4, Teen, YA, ages 13-17, Secondary school  

Fostered sixteen-year old Robert Smith goes for a routine endoscopy and things go badly wrong.
The novel is a car chase from the very beginning. Short sentences and frequent line-breaks maintain a fast pace. Kevin Brooks keeps us guessing all of the time. The pace slows later as the story turns to romance and sex. 

Robert tells his own story in a first person immediate narrative that as so often in books written for young adults makes the reader feel as though the narrator is their best friend and is telling their story in order to work what has happened. 

Is it a thriller? Is it a science fiction?  There is violence and Robert takes risks. There are also elements of the thriller in this novel.  

There is something odd about Robert and the reader is left to find her own explanation. 

The fast pace and the thriller elements in the first part of the story make it seem suitable for teens. 

The content in the latter half of the book brings it more firmly into the YA area.                  

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian

Set in World War II, this story brings us the themes of war, death, abuse, friendship and growth. Young William Beech poses reclusive set-in-his ways Tom Oakley a challenge when he arrives as an evacuee in Little Weirworld. There are some grim scenes and both Will and Tom have a hard time of it but the ending is upbeat.   

This is perhaps the best known of Magorian's books, many of which are set in this era. This one could be described as a modern classic.  

This is clearly suitable for the fluent ready in the latter stages of Key Stage 2 and the last two classes of junior school, ages 9-11. It would also appeal to slightly older readers and adults. 

Magorian's characters are richly drawn. She uses a close third person point of view and we get to know each one of them really well. She does flit from head to head a little which may disturb the modern reader somewhat but nevertheless we remain gripped until the end. 

I was very happy to reread this book.         

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Our Daily Bread

This is my first collection of short stories which I've self-published as an e-book only. It's also the first time I've completed the whole design and the cover myself. I was pleased that I could do it though not sure I've made as good a job of it as our in-house designer. 

Nevertheless, I used Draft2Digital and I have to say they were very easy to use. A downside is that they take a % of all that you earn though there are no set-up costs. Also, they can publish to multiple platforms. We normally only publish on Amazon. This time I've hooked it up to everything I can. You can see this here.

At the time of writing it's still not on Amazon. On all the other platforms you can pre-release. I did that. I even edited the book again after some of my reviewers found a couple of typos and then tried to release to Amazon. It's still processing. We hit another snag at this point. I had to fill in another tax exemption form. Amazon actually already knows that I am US tax exempt. That has now all been accepted and I am registered for 0% US tax. Still we wait. Oh dear. Amazon again.  

I've divided all of my short stories up into folders – everyday, science fiction, historical, retellings of Bible and near future. This first collection is of everyday stories. Straight away I notice a snag about this method; it's going to take ages to fill some volumes. So, I think in future I'm going to go for the mix. I can always republish stories in other collections later.

I have made a decision to self-publish most of my work. This seems a little at odds with the Opportunities List    I publish. I also miss that excitement / curiosity about publishing. So I've decided to send off each story to others first. I guess the list is still there also for those people we cannot publish. 

Our Daily Bread includes stories of people striving to succeed, sometimes managing, sometimes not.  It is at the same time about daily lives and the bigger picture. There's the story of the young woman who struggles to come to terms with the death of her baby.  A music manager is near to despair but finds a way to carry on. An older citizen finds that miracles still do happen.  Even God, whoever she may be has her say and gives us an interpretation of the Lord's Prayer – hence the title.   

Monday, 6 August 2018

Welcome to writer Pat Jourdan

I'm very happy to welcome Pat to my blog today. Pat  is the author of  Citizeness. Pat tells us a little about her life as a writer: 
My stories and books would be described as literary, although that can sound pretentious. It means good old-fashioned plain writing, like the cooking in our childhood.

I was in Art School, but painting was not enough for expressing all the ideas chasing round, and I had always written poems and then short stories too. A couple of discarded would-be novels date from that time and I might resurrect them now, they are almost history.

There’s no routine at all. I’d say it was more to do with phases of the moon (joke.) Nothing for weeks or months and then total dedication all day. Being retired helps.

My writing space is a gigantic desk set in the living room. It is the kind of desk from old  black & white films, the solicitor’s office or the Head of Police. It’s strange to be sitting this side of it. I won second place in Poetry Pulse and the prize-money paid for most of it.

I never call myself a writer, as it is such an easy occupation to claim. For most writers it is not a 9 to 5 five days having to clock in each weekday with only two weeks and official days off a year. Many writers I know use the label as a way to social climb and claim grants and allowances. If pushed, I’d say I was an artist.

Friends and family support? Patchy. Two friends are interested and my family never comment.  

I am most proud of presenting situations clearly so that they can stand on their own without any need for explanations.

Research is fatal! It’s like going off on a short walk and ending up miles away, happily lost. It just entices you to unearth more and more, absolutely fascinating details - and then you have totally useless pages and pages of notes and printouts. And then you don’t like to throw them away.

First I write by hand on A4 pads, 160 pages, narrow lines. Then off to the computer and type, sifting through the lot. Then print off all the pages, make a pot of tea (well, several,) and with a red pencil, go through each line. I went to a grammar school and we learnt to parse, ‘Parts of Speech,’ which does not happen these days. Each word has its dedicated function. There are only eight : noun, verb, pronoun, adjective, adverb, preposition, conjunction and exclamation. There is a fashionable movement against using adverbs and I even read in one magazine’s requirements that adjectives should be as sparse as possible. That will lead to an excessively pared-down style, if we are going to be left using only six items from the ‘toolbox’ as Stephen King calls it. And we don’t often use exclamations, so that leave us with only five.

My future goals are to finish the next three semi-done novels. The notes and pages cluster beside the desk in baskets and I try to avoid them.

Writers who I have always admired since a teenager are: Nathaniel West  - Miss Lonelyhearts, The Day of the Locust and A Cool Million. Georges Simenon – everything, there’s  53 books of his in English and French so far on the shelves here. 

And then I discovered Janet Frame. The Daylight and the Dust is a selection from four collections of her short stories. Her novel Angel at my Table is the best-known of her 20 works and was filmed by Jane Campion. Also from New Zealand, she is a modern Katherine Mansfield. Her writing is seamless, enticing and a joy to read.

My latest work is Maryland Street, life in 1950s Liverpool, it is on Amazon with previous books.

Available here.